Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Long-term outlook

What is a psychosocial factor?

Psychosocial factors are those factors that affect a person psychologically or socially.

What are the psychosocial factors associated with prostate cancer?

Every person is different, and not all men have the same experience, thoughts or feelings; however, some common feelings and concerns may be present when a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer, including the following:

  • Threatened masculinity – the prostate gland is critical to a man’s sexual function; the possibility and actual diagnosis of prostate cancer can instill fear and anxiety for patients since it threatens their masculinity. They fear they will never be a “real man” again in terms of sexual performance. Treatment for prostate cancer that results in changes in sexual function also may affect a man’s ability to father a child. Rather than adopting a course of action in response to these fears, consider educating yourself so that you can make the best health decisions possible. Treatment considerations vary, as do their effects on sexual function. It is normal to be scared, angry or depressed when given this diagnosis. The good news is that prostate cancer is very treatable.
  • Feeling embarrassed or avoiding discussions about the diagnosis – each patient, together with their partner or family, should try their best to communicate about the diagnosis of prostate cancer, how it makes them feel, what their expectations are, what their fears are, etc. Prostate cancer affects not only the patient, but also those closest to him. Arm yourself and those around you with information and take the time to learn about your cancer diagnosis, the risks and benefits of various therapies, and the impact they may have on your life. Take the time for you and those you love to become informed.
  • Being honest with yourself and with your physician – sometimes, men are embarrassed or feel guilty for ignoring possible signs of prostate cancer, or avoiding visits with their physician due to the nature of a prostate examination. Other times, men avoid going back see their physician once the diagnosis of prostate cancer is made, choosing instead to treat themselves with alternative medicines, or simply deny the diagnosis of cancer altogether. It is your responsibility to be honest with yourself and your health care provider, in order to form a partnership with your physician that is based on candid, honest dialogue to ensure the best care possible. It is normal to consider a second opinion and investigate all of the care options available to you, until you have made the best choice for yourself. Be assured that physicians understand getting a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis or to provide a different perspective on treatment options. Above all, become an advocate for your personal health care.
  • Being afraid to ask for help – it is normal to feel helpless, alone or isolated when you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Consider going to a support group. You will find numerous other men who understand your situation because they have been there themselves. Bring your partner or a friend as a support person, if you choose. You will be amazed at how much information you can gain from those who have “been there” and by the amount of stress eliminated in the knowledge that others truly do understand. Ask your physician where the prostate cancer support groups are in your area.

What can you do to help the man in your life with prostate cancer?

The following are some suggestions for helping the men in your life who may have or could have prostate cancer at some point in time:

  • Keep the lines of communication open.
    It is easy for someone with a diagnosis of prostate cancer to become depressed or to be in a state of denial. It also is normal for you to be sad, angry or in denial of the diagnosis. Open communication is critical during a stressful time like this. Strengthen your relationship by talking about how you feel.
  • My husband/father/son will not go to the doctor because he is embarrassed about the types of examinations necessary to check the prostate.
    Most men are embarrassed at the thought of a digital rectal exam. Because the prostate is an internal organ, it cannot be looked at directly. Prostate problems can affect men of any age and the examination is simple and quick. Offer to go with him to the appointment or drive him to the physician’s office. Catching problems early via regular checkups far outweighs waiting and developing a serious illness. All men over 50 should have yearly rectal examinations for prostate disease as part of their physical checkups. Remember, there are generally no symptoms in the earliest stages when prostate cancer is the most curable.
  • If there is something wrong, prostate cancer is not the only possibility.
    In fact, there are other types of prostate problems other than cancer, which can mimic the symptoms of prostate cancer. Like prostate cancer, these problems are readily treatable.
  • Educate yourself.
    Understanding the diagnosis will help you to be supportive and understand what your loved one is going through.
  • Maintain good medical records.
    Keep a notebook of all appointments, tests and visits with health care providers and obtain copies of test results for your records.
  • Ask questions.
    A dumb question is only the one not asked. Take notes and put them in your notebook with your medical records. Accompany your partner so that you can both hear what is being said. And, above all, ask questions.
  • Attend a support group together.
    Meeting others who have already gone through what you are going through is one of the best ways to alleviate feelings of helplessness and isolation.
  • Seek new information.
    Prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment options are continually changing as new advances and discoveries are being made. Continue to seek new information and keep abreast of recent findings and studies that may be beneficial.