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Is group support beneficial for people with cancer?

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Yes, the main issue is that the group facilitator is trained specifically in working with persons with cancer. There is tremendous clinical value for people who are coping with an illness such as cancer to be in a room with other people who are experiencing the same thing -- this is, in fact, one of the greatest benefits. Group support can help people with the psychological stress, give them insights about treatment options and other medical resources, and teach them how to help family members and friends who are struggling with their diagnoses. The terrible feeling of "why me" can often be mitigated by being near other people experiencing the same kinds of fears, losses and concerns. The facilitator(s) of such a group can also help ensure that the discussion is conducted in a way that is most beneficial to the participants, and in some cases there may be a curriculum or program in place that ensures that specific topics are covered. David Spiegel, in 1987, conducted a landmark study that demonstrated the utility of a support group for women with metastatic breast cancer, and since then dozens of studies have shown benefits for persons with cancer in terms of quality of life, health outcomes, survival times, family adjustment, and overall mental health.

Joining a cancer support group can be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • The support group connects you with people in a similar medical situation. Some groups are defined by diagnosis, age or sex. Licensed social workers or other medical professionals facilitate most support groups.
  • A support group is meant to help you through your cancer journey. The first support group you go to may not be the right fit for you. If you do not enjoy the first group, try another. Ask your healthcare team about local support groups.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.