Partners of cancer patients consult their GP more often than others

Partners of cancer patients consult their GP more often in the period immediately following the cancer diagnosis than they did before. The reasons for their visits are in part due to the illness of the partner, but mainly for symptoms of a somatic or psychosocial nature. This has been concluded in a publication by researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL). The article has appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care.

Cancer affects not only the patients themselves but also their family and friends. The researchers studied the use of GP services for the partners of cancer patients in the period from six months prior up to two years after the diagnosis of cancer was made. The number of consultations to GPs in this period was found to be higher than before. For partners of patients with breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, the increase was 31%, 26%, and 19% respectively. One important reason why partners of cancer patients visited their GP was because they had difficulty coping with the disease itself. However, other reasons were somatic symptoms such as sleep problems, pain, or worries about existing chronic disorders like diabetes. From other studies it is known that the partners of patients with colorectal and lung cancer are admitted to hospital more often than others, especially for psychiatric problems.
Postponing the problem
One striking point about this study is that the increase in partners’ visits to the GP was found to occur only after a period of six months following the diagnosis. No increase was seen, for example, in the period encompassing the diagnosis of cancer. NIVEL study leader Joke Korevaar explains: “Our research may contribute to the awareness of GPs for possible health problems of partners of patients with cancer. If the GP explains to the patients and their partners that the diagnosis of cancer also might affect the health of the partner, partners could feel more freely to discuss their health problems with the GP.”
NIVEL’s registration network
Data for the study was taken from NIVEL’s registration network. The data was based on 84 general practices with more than 335,000 patients. The practices continuously record data on patient contacts, including diagnoses, number of consultations, interventions, prescriptions and referrals. The study included the partners of 3,071 patients with cancer of either the breast, prostate, colon, or lung who were diagnosed between 2001and 2009 and who were still alive two years after the diagnosis. 

KWF Alpe d’Huzes (Dutch)