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Keywords:

  • cancer;
  • oncology;
  • gynaecological cancer;
  • peer support;
  • psychosocial interventions;
  • social support

Abstract

Objective

Peer support is much valued by cancer patients. Previous research has focused on support groups, typically for women with breast cancer; little has addressed one-to-one support. This qualitative study examined a telephone-delivered one-to-one peer support intervention for women with gynaecological cancer, focusing on recipients' experiences of process and outcome.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 24 women recently treated for gynaecological cancer who had received peer support for up to a 3-month period. Transcripts were analysed thematically using the ‘Framework’ approach.

Results

Six key components of the peer support process were identified: an emotional bond, empathy, talking openly, reciprocity, information and guidance, and humour. Their importance was highlighted by cases in which they were absent or problematic. Participants described several benefits, for example hope and confidence, making sense of the illness experience and rebuilding one's life. However, one-third reported limited or no benefits, although there was no evidence of adverse outcomes.

Conclusions

One-to-one telephone peer support shares common features with support groups but is uniquely dependent on an effective working relationship between the support provider and recipient. Peer support can address the disease- and treatment-specific concerns of women with gynaecological cancer, as well as the adaptive tasks of recovery faced by cancer survivors. Further research needs to examine who is more or less likely to benefit from one-to-one peer support and which parameters of the intervention, such as duration and matching, influence its effectiveness. Patient-relevant outcomes should be included in future controlled trials. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.