12 November 2019

By Dr Wendy Winnall - PCFA Research Team

A new Australian study has asked whether aspects of masculinity are affecting the help-seeking of men with prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer causes distress

The diagnosis of prostate cancer is a major life stress for many men. After the initial distress around diagnosis, men face treatments that often have difficult side effects. Fortunately the rate of survival is relatively high, with 95% of these men alive 5 years after their diagnosis. But living longer does not necessarily mean living well. Up to 1 in 4 men experience anxiety and 1 in 5 depression after prostate cancer treatment. Unsurprisingly, the levels of distress are usually greater for men with advanced disease.

Men with prostate cancer are more likely to feel distressed if they are younger, socially or economically disadvantaged or are suffering from the symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, men with prostate cancer have an increased risk of suicide compared to men without this cancer. Distress is therefore a big issue for many men living with prostate cancer.

Help-seeking by men with prostate cancer

It’s normal to feel distress upon a diagnosis with cancer. However, for some men this distress continues for long periods of time and greatly disrupts their lives. These men may benefit from some help.

Men can access help in coping with distress, depression and anxiety from a number of sources. These include GPs, psychologists, nurses (especially Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurses), support groups, online peer-support such as PCFA’s Online Community. Men with prostate cancer can call PCFA on 1800 22 00 99 or the Cancer Council support line 13 11 20 for those seeking emotional or practical support.

Asking for help does not come naturally to many men. Surveys and interviews of men with prostate cancer have shown that they are no exception to this. Almost half of men with prostate cancer report psychological needs that are not being met. Many men choose to tough it out rather than ask for help, particularly from a psychologist. It’s possible that there is some stigma stopping some men from seeking psychological help.

Does masculinity affect help-seeking by men with prostate cancer?

Australian Prostate Cancer Survivorship researchers want to understand how and why men with prostate cancer seek help for psychological or emotional issues. A new study has examined the relationship between masculinity and help-seeking by men with prostate cancer. This research group, from the Centre for Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer Survivorship, were led by Prof Suzanne Chambers. Their recent results have been published in the journal Psycho-Oncology.

Many previous studies of help-seeking have used surveys at one time point. To better study this topic, the Prostate Cancer Survivorship researchers performed a longitudinal study. They surveyed men at one time-point, then follow-up after 6 and 12 months. This allowed them to identify men who needed help for psychological or emotional issues, those who intended to seek help and those who actually sought help over a 12-month period.

The researchers surveyed 225 Australian men who had been treated for localised prostate cancer. They received their diagnosis an average of 4.1 years earlier. They identified 75 men with unmet psychological needs – men who needed some help but had not received it. Of these men:

  • 41% intended to seek help within 6 months
  • 20% actually sought help within 6 months
  • a total of 33% had sought help by 12 months

These results are consistent with earlier studies showing many men that need help are not seeking it. Those who did seek support tended to be younger and sourced it largely from their GP or through prostate cancer support groups.

The Survivorship Researchers used various surveys to ask whether aspects of masculinity were affecting men’s help-seeking. They wondered whether men who felt strong and self-reliant were less likely to seek help.

Most aspects of masculinity did not affect help-seeking. However the researchers found that men who needed help and reported higher levels of optimistic action were less likely to actually seek support. This aspect of masculinity may be preventing these men from facing the need for help.

We spoke to one of the authors of this study, A/Prof Nicholas Ralph from Cancer Council QLD and University of South Queensland:

Our study is the first Australian study of its kind to look at the support seeking behaviour of men with prostate cancer over a 12 month period. We found that men who say they will take action in the face of dealing with their disease, are actually those who are least likely to seek help from a health professional. Given men’s responses may be a way to cope with their disease, clinicians need to pay attention to the emotional well-being of men. As part of prostate cancer survivorship care in Australia, psychosocial support is essential and needs to be delivered in a man-friendly way that supports men to seek help in coping with this insidious disease.   A/Prof Nicholas Ralph

The results from this study can help clinicians to understand why some men don’t seek support when they need it. Discussing the results, the researchers stated that Clinicians should be aware that men with chronic illness who appear to approach challenges with optimistic action, may in fact be in need of psychological care but less likely to seek help.


If you or a loved one needs help coping with prostate cancer, please reach out and call our team on 1800 22 00 99 or email enquiries@pcfa.org.au

For more information and to connect with a Support Group in your local area, click here for more information, or talk to other men and their partners via our Online Community at http://onlinecommunity.pcfa.org.au/

People experiencing extreme distress may find help from Lifeline Australia by calling 13 11 14.