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Support groups for cancer patients


Within the last two decades psychosocial group interventions have been developed to help cancer patients cope better with the psychosocial sequelae of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Support groups include a variety of different approaches some of which focus on behavioral aspects and symptoms (e.g. pain, fatigue) and some on the expression of emotions. Most of these support programs are structured and short-term and include elements such as delivery of information, emotional and social support, stress management strategies based on the cognitive behavioral approach and the teaching of relaxation techniques. Beyond individual therapy, group therapies can address cancer-related issues to enable patients to gain emotional support from other patients with similar experiences and to use these experiences to buffer the fear of dying and the unknown future. One of the overall therapeutic targets is the promotion of the patient’s individual resources. Therefore, such groups are helpful not only for the patients, but also for their spouses and other family members, in relieving the cancer-related distress. In Germany, support groups are established in rehabilitation clinics as well as outpatient programs and play an important role in palliative and supportive care of cancer patients. Against the background of changes in the patients’ role, the increasing availability of information technology (e.g. the internet) and patient advocacy in cancer treatment, support groups may be understood as a mean of empowerment of the patient. The need for group interventions such as outpatient programs for cancer patients is claimed not only by the health professionals but also by the patients themselves. There is some research emphasizing that avoidance of feelings, denial of concerns, feelings of helplessness and social isolation are correlated with poorer health outcome and poorer quality of life. Many empirical studies have provided evidence-based knowledge that structured group interventions for cancer patients improve psychological wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve quality of life, coping and mental adjustment. Positive effects on survival have even been reported, but these effects have not yet been proven.

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Correspondence to Joachim Weis.

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This work was presented as an invited lecture at the 15th International Symposium Supportive Care in Cancer, Berlin, Germany, 18–21 June 2003.

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Weis, J. Support groups for cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 11, 763–768 (2003).

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  • Psychooncology
  • Psychosocial intervention
  • Patient education
  • Support groups
  • Coping
  • Quality of life