Prostate Cancer and Your Mental Health

Health Writer
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About 164,690 Americans will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. While most patients do not die from the disease, men with prostate cancer suffer high rates of depression and anxiety.

Read on to learn more about the unique effects prostate cancer can have on mental health, and how you can protect your emotional well-being during your cancer journey.


Coping with a prostate cancer diagnosis

Being diagnosed with prostate cancer causes fear, anxiety, and a whole range of difficult emotions. You fear that the disease will progress, destroy your sexual abilities, and affect your relationships, says Dr. Chandana Banerjee, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope.


Making prostate cancer treatment decisions

Unlike other cancers, there are many treatment options for prostate cancer. Deciding what to do can be stressful, especially when the experts don’t agree on the best course of action, says Dr. John Peteet, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Psychosocial Oncology Fellowship Site Director at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston. Various kinds of early treatment include surgery, radiation, and active surveillance.


Work and financial concerns

If a man with prostate cancer thinks of himself as the breadwinner of a family, being unable to work during treatment can be challenging both financially and emotionally. A study of Canadian men concluded that patients and caregivers should include work and career plans in discussions about side effects of treatment.


Sexual problems: physical and emotional

Prostate cancer and its treatment can cause sexual problems, which are important to discuss with your care team from the start. “There is often a sense of emasculation and guilt for not being able to have intimate relationships due to anxiety and fear. Patients with loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are at increased risk of depression, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and fear of disease progression,” Banerjee said.


Dealing with fear and grief

Men with prostate cancer may fear recurrence, disability, or death. They may feel ashamed and suffer from the stigma of a disease that affects the most intimate parts of a man’s life. They may grieve about unfulfilled life goals and a changed self-image.


Dealing with anxiety and depression

Prostate cancer patients may feel especially anxious about how the disease will affect intimate relationships. They can experience depression before, during, and after treatment for prostate cancer, from loss of self-esteem, physical pain, or even as a side effect of treatment itself.


Finding a prostate cancer support network

This can include your pre-cancer friends and family members. In addition, many cancer patients find support from other people who are going through the same experience. There are lots of options for both in-person and online prostate cancer support groups.


Professional counseling and mental health care

If you develop severe depression or anxiety, it’s important to get professional support. Depression and anxiety can add to the fatigue, fogginess, and distraction you may already be experiencing as treatment side effects, making it more difficult to follow your cancer care plan. Your care team may be able to refer you for counseling, psychotherapy, couples therapy, or psychiatric care.


Medication for anxiety and depression

If you were taking medication for anxiety or depression before your cancer diagnosis, don’t stop taking them without talking to your care team. And if you develop anxiety or depression after your diagnosis, talk with your care team to see if medication can help.