Study co-author Kristen Carpenter, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Ohio State in Columbus, and senior author Sharla Wells-Di Gregorio, an assistant professor, found the level of stress in men due to spouses' cancer had a bigger influence on their health than did the current status of their wives' disease.
The findings imply that clinicians caring for breast cancer patients could help patients by considering the caregivers' health as well, the researchers say.
"If you care for the caregiver, your patient gets better care, too," Carpenter said in a statement.
The study involved 32 men with a median age of 58, 16 of whose wives had experienced a breast cancer recurrence an average of eight months before the study began, and approximately five years after the initial cancer diagnosis. The men were matched with 16 men whose wives' cancers were similar but who remained disease-free about six years after the initial diagnosis.
Participants completed questionnaires measuring levels of psychological stress related to their wives' cancers, physical symptoms related to stress and the degree to which fatigue interfered with their daily functioning. Men whose wives had experienced a recurrence of cancer reported higher levels of stress, greater interference from fatigue and more physical symptoms, such as headaches and abdominal pain, than did men whose wives had remained disease-free, the study found.
The findings were published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.