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2 November 2011
Suicide risk in prostate cancer sufferers tackled with writing therapy
by George Atkinson

Prostate cancer sufferers are twice as likely to commit suicide, but a therapy where they put intrusive self-harming thoughts into words appears to reduce this risk. The technique was developed by Thordis Thorsteinsdottir, at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The study tracked more than 800 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.

The findings showed that around 1-in-4 men had thoughts about suicide. "Seventy-three percent of the men had sudden involuntary negative intrusive thoughts about their cancer at some point before surgery, and almost 60 percent still had these thoughts three months after surgery," said Thorsteinsdottir. "One in four thought about their own death at least once a week."

Thorsteinsdottir's thesis shows that men who do not expect to be cured have negative intrusive thoughts more often. "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," she notes.

She contends that a journaling method can reduce these intrusive thoughts. Known as expressive writing, the method has been tested on other cancer patients with impressive results and involves getting the men to spend 20 minutes writing down their feelings on at least three occasions after getting their cancer diagnosis.

This, according to Thorsteinsdottir, 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 mental health.

"Health professionals could be better at communicating with men who have had a cancer diagnosis," Thorsteinsdottir concluded. "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."

Discuss this article in our forum
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Source: University of Gothenburg

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