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Families affected by childhood cancer: an analysis of the provision of social support within online support groups


Neil S. Coulson, Institute of Work, Health & Organisations, University of Nottingham, International House, Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road, Nottingham NG8 1BB, UK. E-mail:


Background  With increasing access to the Internet, there are new opportunities available to families to seek information, advice and support about childhood cancer online.

Methods  A total of 487 messages were retrieved from three childhood cancer online support groups and were analysed using deductive thematic analysis for the presence of support-intended communication using Cutrona and Suhr's social support typology. In addition, the messages were examined for negative experiences or disadvantages.

Results  The results revealed the presence of five types of social support: emotional, informational, esteem support and tangible assistance. In addition, some potential limitations of online support were identified, including a lack of responses and difficulties in maintaining relationships outside the online group context.

Conclusion  This study suggests that online support groups may offer the potential to support family members of children with cancer. In particular, it may be a useful resource for those seeking emotional and information support. However, there may be limitations associated with the use of online support groups.