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Prostate cancer patients to be offered relationship counselling post-surgery

Men who have undergone prostate cancer surgery and their partners are to be offered relationship support as part of a new study by the University of Stirling.

Following surgery, couples will be invited to attend six sessions of support with a relationship counsellor. The trial, funded by charity Prostate Cancer UK, will take place in Edinburgh. It will compare the impact of receiving relationship support with usual care (routine hospital follow-up appointments) for men after prostate cancer surgery.

Dr Liz Forbat, Reader and Co-Director of the Cancer Care Research Centre at the University, is leading the study. She said: “Prostate cancer physically affects the man, but cancer impacts on the couple.

“In previous prostate cancer studies we have carried out, we found that many couples experience problems with intimacy post-surgery, but is not always discussed between men and their partners and often isn’t part of routine care provided by the surgical teams.

“After a man has undergone surgery it can make intimacy difficult and this is an extremely sensitive subject for which couples do not receive adequate support. The study will therefore test an intervention to see if we can support couples better in this area of their relationship. This will give couples space to talk about the impact of the disease and discuss their concerns openly in a supportive environment.”

Couples will be surveyed before and after the counselling sessions to see if improvements to their quality of life and relationship have been made, and whether they have been able to initiate changes in their relationship as a result of the support. Interviews will be conducted to assess what was most/least helpful about the counselling sessions compared to usual care. The research team will also calculate the overall cost of providing this support and whether it reduces the need for other health-care services (like GP use).

Dr Rachel Macdonald, Research Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said:

“Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is predicted to be the most common cancer overall by 2030.  It is therefore incredibly important that we do all we can to ensure all men affected by the disease and their partners get the care and support they need.

“Prostate Cancer UK is committed to funding research projects that employ a more innovative approach to finding answers and improving care. We are therefore delighted to be funding this important research project to investigate the psychosexual needs of couples where the male partner has been affected by prostate cancer.

“The impact of prostate cancer on couples is a largely unstudied area but can have major consequences for a relationship. Erectile dysfunction can impact on quality of life post surgery, leaving men feeling lost and unsupported. It is simply unacceptable that men receive very little support due to lack of research in this area. We believe men and their partners deserve far better than this, which is why we are delighted to be leading the way by funding this ground-breaking piece of research.”

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