Original Article

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, 35:230

First online:

Quality of Life of Couples Dealing with Cancer: Dyadic and Individual Adjustment among Breast and Prostate Cancer Survivors and Their Spousal Caregivers

  • Youngmee KimAffiliated withBehavioral Research Center, American Cancer Society Email author 
  • , Deborah A. KashyAffiliated withMichigan State University
  • , David K. WellischAffiliated withUniversity of California
  • , Rachel L. SpillersAffiliated withBehavioral Research Center, American Cancer Society
  • , Chiew Kwei KawAffiliated withBehavioral Research Center, American Cancer Society
  • , Tenbroeck G. SmithAffiliated withBehavioral Research Center, American Cancer Society

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Background and Purpose

Although evidence suggests that survivors and spousal caregivers tend to experience somewhat similar levels of distress and that the survivor’s distress affects his/her own quality of life, the degree to which each person’s distress has an independent effect on their partner’s quality of life is unknown. Thus, this study aimed to examine the dyadic effects of psychological distress on the quality of life of couples dealing with cancer.


A total of 168 married survivor–caregiver dyads participating in the American Cancer Society’s Study of Cancer Survivors-I and Quality of Life Survey for Caregivers provided complete data for study variables. Participating survivors were diagnosed with either breast or prostate cancer approximately 2 years prior to participating in the study.


Using the Actor Partner Interdependence Model, results revealed that although each person’s psychological distress is the strongest predictor of their own quality of life, partner’s distress and (dis)similarity in distress of the couple also play significant roles in one’s quality of life. In addition, the adverse effect of having a partner who is less emotionally resourceful was especially pronounced on men’s physical health.


Our systematic investigation provided valuable evidence for identifying the subgroup of cancer survivors and their spouses who are vulnerable to poor quality of life due to their mutual psychological distress. These findings suggest that couples may benefit from interventions that enhance their ability to manage psychological distress, particularly the wife’s, which may improve the mental and physical health of both partners when they are dealing with cancer.


Psychological distress Quality of life Dyadic adjustment