The statistics are shocking; men with prostate cancer are twice as likely to commit suicide! Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden have devised a method to try and cut back on the number of suicides. Their method involves putting intrusive thoughts into words with the goal of reducing the risks.

In a study researchers surveyed the thoughts of 833 Swedish men before and after surgery for prostate cancer. The suicide rate in this group is high, and the aim of the study was to map the men’s thoughts.

One in Four Thought About Death

They found that 73% of the men had sudden involuntary negative intrusive thoughts about their cancer at some point before surgery, and almost 60% still had these thoughts three months after surgery. Thordis Thorsteinsdottir, in whose thesis the results are reported found that “One in four thought about their own death at least once a week.”

Lower Perceived Quality of Life

Her thesis shows that men who do not expect to be cured by the treatment have negative intrusive thoughts more often than the normal population. “Men who often think these thoughts about their prostate cancer before surgery are more likely to have low or moderate perceived quality of life three months afterwards,” says Thorsteinsdottir.

New Method Can Reduce Intrusive Thoughts

Her thesis discusses a method which can reduce these intrusive thoughts. Known as expressive writing, the method has been tested on other cancer patients with good results and involves getting the men affected to spend 20 minutes writing down their feelings on at least three occasions after getting their cancer diagnosis.

Easier to Talk

The idea is that this writing exercise helps the men to put their intrusive thoughts into words. It is then easier to talk to friends and family, which reduces their negative thoughts and so improves their feeling of well being.

“Health professionals could be better at communicating with men who have had a cancer diagnosis,” says Thorsteinsdottir. “If every man was asked ‘What do you think about your cancer and your future?’ and we then took the time to listen, we might be in a better position to help them handle this new situation and prevent drastic actions such as suicide.”

The thesis covered 4,000 men with prostate cancer from 13 urology clinics in Sweden.
The thesis has been successfully defended.

Prostate Cancer and Mental Ill-Health

Long after the diagnosis, men with prostate cancer often exhibit signs that they have post-traumatic stress syndrome. They will exhibit negative intrusive thoughts about the disease which cause sleeping problems and high levels of anxiety.

Additionally, Thordis Thorsteinsdottir’s thesis also shows that men with prostate cancer who have these negative thoughts before surgery are more likely to have a lower perceived quality of life three months afterwards.

The results are based on a survey of 833 men admitted to 12 different urology clinics, corresponding to 86% of all eligible men operated on at these centers between 1 September 2008 and 31 August 2009. The men were asked questions about their mental health before and three months after surgery.

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.