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Abstract

Stimulated by patient need and encouraged by results from randomized studies in academic centers, many community organizations have initiated cancer support groups in order to improve the psychosocial adjustment of people coping with cancer. For a variety of reasons, little research has been done to evaluate these community support groups. The efficacy of cancer support groups, which has been demonstrated in academic centers, therefore awaits demonstration in community settings.

This paper provides process and outcome data from 77 people with cancer who completed an 8-week support group facilitated by licensed and trained mental health professionals in a local community cancer support organization. Similar to the experience of others, participants were primarily female, of European descent, well-educated, and relatively young (mean age 50 years, S.D. = 12). As predicted, their self-reported quality of life (as measured by the Functional Living Index—Cancer) improved significantly, paired t = − 2.06, p < 0.05. Five-point ratings (poor, fair, good, very good, excellent) were assigned either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ for the overall group (90%) and facilitator (87%). More detailed ratings of group and facilitator qualities were consistently and strikingly positive. While facilitators were rated positively and appreciated for their presence, peer support exceeded facilitator skill/input as the primary ingredient noted by participants to be the most helpful aspect of the group. Community-based cancer support groups appear to provide measurable benefit to participants who complete the group. The benefit is consistent with that demonstrated in randomized studies and emphasizes improvement in coping stimulated by mutual support in a safe environment.