Humour helps penile cancer patients to cope study shows
Whilst some argue that there are 'no-go' topics for humour in nursing care, the new research, led by Dr Peter Branney at Leeds Met and funded by the National Institute for Health Research for Patient Benefit (NIHR RfPB) Programme, discovered that, although men who had experienced penile cancer feared that they could become the subject of ridicule, they were able to laugh with each other and with nurses about the consequences of their treatment.
The study aimed to explore men's experiences of the diagnosis and treatment of penile cancer and to create a patient-based information resource for the healthtalkonline.org website. Entitled 'Masculinities, humour and care for penile cancer: a qualitative study', the work was completed along with Research Officer Karl Witty, PhD student Debbie Braybrook and Professor Alan White at Leeds Met, with Professor Kate Bullen from Aberystwyth University and Consultant Urological Surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Ian Eardley.
Dr Branney commented: "Humour can help smooth the flow of difficult conversations, convey empathy and can even be a vehicle for serious meaning. It is little surprise therefore that nurses use humour to build rapport with patients while dealing with illness and the body. Many men appreciate nurses' humour because they find it comforting to speak openly about their health in a 'laid-back and friendly' environment.
"In this study, patients found that humour helped them to make light of their condition, laughing, for example, about how they could no longer stand up to use a urinal. The patients had lots of stories about when their nurses made them laugh. Nevertheless, patients still thought that treatment was much more important than humour and they were worried that they could become the subject of ridicule. One patient worked in a factory full of men and didn't want to tell them in case they made fun of him."
Through in-depth interviews with ten men, aged between 35 and 84 and from across the UK, patients' perspectives on humour and masculinity were discovered during focus groups.
Most patients reported that their main form of treatment was a surgical excision of the glans and the main themes that were highlighted by the focus groups were: that the men were able to laugh about urination with each other, as they now struggled to urinate standing up; the experience of humour with health professionals, which helped them to remain positive; feeling that the knowledge that their condition was treatable was highly important and made the men feel more able to look on the brighter side; and the fear of ridicule, particularly in those men who worked in male-dominated workplaces.
The researchers' advice to nurses as a result of the study is that they should continue to use humour to build rapport with patients, however they should avoid jokes about sexual and urinary functioning until after treatment.