No two mesothelioma diagnoses are the same. The cancer can vary by stage, location and cell type. Each of these differences can influence the best course of treatment, and treatment can vary. And when victims get past their diagnoses and treatment options, they still have the business of getting on with their lives.
How you get on with your life will obviously depend on things such as your health, finances and the support you have from family and friends. However, your gender also matters. The issue of gender has been largely unexplored in the experiences of mesothelioma victims. This is largely due to the fact there are far more men with the disease than women, but a recent study from the European Journal of Oncology Nursing focused on how experiences may vary with gender. It found three key themes.
3 ways gender changes the mesothelioma experience
The study found three key ways that men and women experience mesothelioma differently. These differences may not appear as important, at first, as the differences between tumor cell types or personal health histories. However, as the study’s authors noted, they may influence the decisions the victims make about their treatment. They may also inform the best ways that family, friends and health professionals can offer support.
- Men and women take different practical steps to care for their families and loved ones. Women tend to focus on managing the household and guarding their loved one’s emotions. They might make sure their spouses had new appliances to help them with chores. Men tend to focus more on their family’s financial security. Some even returned to work after their diagnoses so their families would receive payments based on their working incomes, rather than retirement wages.
- Men and women place different values on the type of support they received. Men tend to prefer more practical support, such as help with their medication and appointments. They appreciate the encouragement to exercise and the support they receive to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Women generally emphasize the value of emotional support. They praise spouses and family who offer friendship, companionship and care.
- Men speak more decisively about treatment preferences while women are often more tentative. The study provided examples of the language men and women use to discuss their treatment preferences. It also made clear that the language men and women use to discuss treatment does not always reflect their final decisions.
It’s important to note the study also identified a host of experiences that felt more evenly shared by both men and women. However, its focus was on the differences. By identifying these gender-based differences, the study may help family and professionals provide better, more effective care.
Focused on better outcomes
One of the most notable things about the study may simply be that it illustrates how much we still have to learn about mesothelioma. It’s remarkable that researchers have only just begun to explore something so fundamental as gender, but we are learning more about the disease every day.
Scientists are still exploring ways to better diagnose the disease, treat it and, potentially, cure it. They tend to focus on how much their treatments may extend lifespans, but the study reminds us that treatment is about more than duration. It’s also about the experience. Quality of life matters. Even as scientists make incremental progress toward longer lifespans, studies such as this may help providers make incremental progress toward better experiences.