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This cross-sectional survey examined changes in perceived relationships and sexual activity in a sample of thyroid cancer patients and their partners, taking into account sociodemographic and disease-related variables, as well as such outcome measures as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and quality of life (QoL).
A total of 38 patients with thyroid cancer who were being treated at the department of nuclear medicine in Zürich or Lucerne over the preceding seven years, as well as their partners, completed questionnaires about the quality of their relationships (RQ), about perceptions of changes in their relationships, and about their frequency of sexual activity. They also filled out prevalidated questionnaires related to anxiety, depression, fatigue, and QoL.
Some 17 patients (44.7%) and 16 partners (42.1 %) reported that the cancer diagnosis had changed their relationships. Of these, 10 (26.3%) patients and 9 (23.7%) partners reported positive changes only, while 7 patients (18.4%) and 7 partners (18.4%) reported mixed or negative changes. A perceived mixed/negative relationship change was associated with increased depression and lower RQ in patients and partners, as well as with increased anxiety in patients. While the frequency of sexual activity only changed in roughly half of patients and partners (16 patients [42.1%] and 20 partners [52.6%]), increased sexual activity was associated with lower physical QoL scores and a higher depression score than in counterparts who reported no change.
Significance of Results:
Compared to other cancer sites, in our sample thyroid cancer had a relatively small impact on patient–partner relationships and levels of intimacy. We found that screening patients and their partners with a simple question—“Did the diagnosis of cancer change your relationship?”—can lead to early detection of couples who are potentially at risk for perceived negative relationship changes and can facilitate timely psychosocial referral for couple's therapy.
The aim of this qualitative study was to gain a deeper understanding about couples' relationship changes over time (the first six months) after one partner is diagnosed with an incurable advanced melanoma (stage III or IV).
In semistructured interviews, eight patients and their partners were asked separately about potential changes in their relationship since diagnosis. The same questions were asked again six months later, but focusing on relationship changes over the preceding six months. Some 32 audiotaped interviews were analyzed applying qualitative content analysis.
At baseline (t1), relationship changes were mostly reported in terms of caring, closeness/distance regulation, and communication patterns. While changes in caregiving and distance/closeness regulation remained main issues at six months follow-up (t2), greater appreciation of the relationship and limitations in terms of planning spare time also emerged as major issues. Unexpectedly, 50% of patients and partners reported actively hiding their negative emotions and sorrows from their counterparts to spare them worry. Furthermore, qualitative content analysis revealed relationship changes even in those patients and partners who primarily reported no changes over the course of the disease.
Significance of results:
Our findings revealed a differentiated and complex picture about relationship changes over time, which also might aid in the development of support programs for couples dealing with advanced cancer, focusing on the aspects of caring, closeness/distance regulation, and communication patterns.
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