Perioperative pain, psychological distress, and immune function in men undergoing prostatectomy for cancer of the prostate

Stephen J. Yermal, Linda Witek-Janusek*, Jonna Peterson, Herbert L. Mathews

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Prostate cancer is a leading malignancy in men, and prostatectomy is widely used for its treatment. Psychological distress and pain are commonly experienced in the perioperative period, and both can contribute to suppression of the immune response to cancer. This study evaluated perioperative pain, psychological distress, and immune function in men undergoing prostatectomy. Men were evaluated prior to surgery, 1 and 2 days postoperatively and 4-6 weeks postoperatively. Compared to cancer-free men, the prostatectomy group reported increased perceived stress, depression, confusion, and anxiety prior to surgery. During the 2 postoperative days, mood disturbance and anxiety persisted and were accompanied by mild elevations in pain and reduced vigor. At 4-6 weeks postoperative, mood, pain, and immune function were similar to those of the cancer-free group; however, the prostatectomy group continued to report significant elevations in anxiety. Natural killer cell activity (NKCA) was significantly reduced on Day 1 after prostatectomy, but by postoperative Day 2, NKCA returned to a level similar to that of the cancer-free group. The reduction in NKCA was not accompanied by changes in circulating immune cells, demonstrating that this reduction represented a functional change in NKCA. No correlations between immune variables and pain or psychological variables were found, suggesting that the postoperative reduction in NKCA was likely the result of the physical stress of the surgical experience. Suppression of immune defenses during the critical postoperative period can place cancer patients at risk for nascent tumor seeding. Additional interventions are needed to reduce this risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-362
Number of pages12
JournalBiological research for nursing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Mood disturbance
  • Natural killer cells
  • Perioperative pain
  • Prostate cancer
  • Psychological distress
  • Psychoneuroimmunology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory


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