Fathers’ and Sons’ Communication Behaviors in Response to Prostate Cancer and Familial Risk: Motivations, Challenges, and Approaches in the PSA Era

Camella J. Rising

Major Professor: Kevin B Wright, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Gary L. Kreps, Katherine E. Rowan, Carla L. Fisher

Merten Hall (formerly University Hall), #1204
June 14, 2018, 11:00 AM to 01:00 PM


Family communication and social support are important ways that family members adjust to a prostate cancer diagnosis. This mixed method study used survey methodology to examine factors that influence diagnosed fathers’ and adult sons’ (n = 182) prostate cancer and familial risk communication behaviors. Forty-seven men were also interviewed to explore what motivates, challenges, and facilitates father-son interactions about prostate cancer/risk. Generational differences, relational openness, perceived openness of the other about prostate cancer/risk, and being from an elevated-risk family strongly influenced their communication behaviors. Dimensions of masculinity (e.g., emotional self-reliance, action approach) were also influential. Perceived openness about prostate cancer/risk was positively correlated with receiving enacted support (informational, emotional, instrumental) from father or son, respectively. Openness and avoidance differed by topical focus (e.g., family history/risk, screening, physical effects, emotional effects). The most prominent communication challenges were individual differences, such as availability (busy, physically distant), son’s age/development, and father’s age/generational cohort. Helpful communication approaches included providing social support, using direct communication strategies (e.g., being open, asking questions), and paying attention to behavioral cues. Integrating indirect communication approaches, such as engaging other family members, keeping topics factual, and using levity, were also perceived as helpful. Sparing dialogue, especially avoiding disclosure, was usually perceived as unhelpful. For some, avoidant prostate cancer/risk communication behaviors were viewed as contributors to relational tensions and possibly missed opportunities for early detection of prostate cancer. This research will be used to guide development of a future father-adult son communication intervention study.