Small group meetings of people facing similar challenges help many people in managing distress and side effects of cancer treatments.

How can support groups and interventions help me? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies and practices.

For additional research not specific to people with cancer, see Are you a health professional? ›

Improving treatment outcomes

Are support groups and intervnetions linked to improved survival? Are they linked to less cancer growth or metastasis? Do they enhance the anticancer action of other treatments or therapies? We present the evidence.

Cancer as a whole

Support interventions for people with cancer and their family caregivers: no evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on survival among people with cancer participating in support groups with their family caregivers in a combined analysis of studies

Breast cancer

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better survival among women with breast cancer participating in support groups

Optimizing your body terrain

Do support groups and interventions promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

Hormone balance

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better cortisol levels among men participating in a bereavement support group

Immune function

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on some immune function markers during radio-chemotherapy or radiotherapy among people with cancer participating in a support-group intervention in a preliminary study

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Are support groups and interventions linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Are they linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Do they support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Side effects and symptoms as a whole

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of fewer symptoms during adjuvanttreatment applied after initial treatment for cancer, especially to suppress secondary tumor formation chemotherapy following surgical treatment among women with breast cancer participating in a structured walking program and support group

Anxiety

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety among people with breast cancer participating in in-person support groups

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on anxiety among people participating in a group emotional and educational intervention in a preliminary study

No evidence of an effect on anxiety after recent surgery among people with newly diagnosed breast cancer participating in one-on-one peer support interventions in a preliminary study

Cognitive difficulties

Preliminary evidence of better long-term cognitive function among women participating in a residential support group intervention after primary breast cancer treatment

Depression and mood

Preliminary (conflicting) evidence of less depression or better mood among people with breast cancer participating in support groups

Preliminary evidence of less mood disturbance, greater confidant support, and greater marital satisfaction among people with early stage breast cancer whose partners participated in a brief psychoeducational group program, and of less mood disturbance among the partners

Preliminary evidence of less depression among men with prostate cancer participating in one-on-one peer support

No evidence of an effect on depression during the 5 weeks after surgery among people with breast cancer participating in one-on-one peer support in a preliminary study

No evidence of an effect on feelings of hopelessness among people with cancer participating in interventions including their family caregivers in a combined analysis of studies

Fatigue

Preliminary evidence of increased vigor after treatment for primary breast cancer among women participating in weekly in-person support groups

Insufficient (conflicting) evidencepreclinical evidence only OR clinical studies with such poor or unclear methodology that no conclusion can be drawn OR conflicting findings across clinical studies with no preponderance of evidence in one direction; conflicting evidence occurs when studies find conflicting effects (positive effect vs no effect or negative effect) with the same treatment and the same general study population (same cancer type, for example) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less fatigue among women with breast cancer participating in residential support interventions

Preliminary evidence of small decreases in fatigue among people with breast cancer participating in an online and phone-based support intervention

No evidence of an effect on fatigue among people with cancer participating in interventions including their family caregivers in a combined analysis of studies

Pain

Support interventions for people with cancer and their family caregivers: no evidence of an effect on pain among people with cancer participating in interventions including their family caregivers in a combined analysis of studies

Quality of life and function

Modest evidence of greater well-being, more life purpose or satisfaction, and/or physical or psychological function among people with breast cancer participating in support groups but not a residential intervention focused on education and training

Preliminary evidence of increased functioning among men with prostate cancer participating in an intervention of pelvic floor muscle exercises and a support group

Modest evidence of better well-being, better information before treatment, better attitude, and less helplessness/hopelessness among people with breast cancer engaging in online communities and groups

Modest evidence of better quality of life and function among people with prostate cancer participating in an online or phone-based support group

Preliminary evidence of better self-efficacybelief in your ability to control your own behavior, emotions, and motivations among people with cancer participating in one-on-one peer support

Preliminary evidence of better information while preparing for treatment among women with gynecological cancer participating in nurse-led consultations plus peer-led telephone sessions

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better social and emotional aspects of quality of life among people with cancer participating in interventions including their family caregivers

Sexual difficulties

Preliminary evidence of a small effect for less sexual distress among women sexually distressed subsequent to gynecologic cancer participating in an online discussion forum

Preliminary evidence of better body image among women after primary breast cancer treatment participating in a residential support group intervention

Preliminary evidence of benefit regarding sexuality needs among women with gynecological cancer receiving nurse-led consultations plus peer-led telephone sessions

No evidence of an effect on sexual function, sexuality needs, sexual self-confidence, masculine self-esteem, marital satisfaction, or intimacy after surgery among heterosexual couples in which the man had been diagnosed with prostate cancer participating in an intervention of either peer-delivered telephone support or nurse-delivered telephone counselling in a preliminary study

Sleep disruption

Preliminary evidence of small decreases in sleep disturbance among people with breast cancer participating in telephone sessions of education/support

Stress and distress

Modest evidence of less stress or distressemotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely; people in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer among women with breast cancer participating in an in-person group

Insufficient (conflicting) evidence of an effect on stress or distress among women with breast cancer participating in an online support intervention

Insufficient (conflicting) evidence of less distress among women with cancer or at risk of cancer receiving one-on-one peer support

Preliminary evidence of fewer symptoms of stress among women with breast cancer receiving a supportive community-based workbook-journal

Other outcomes

Preliminary evidence of more future perspective among women with breast cancer participating in a residential support group

Preliminary evidence of fewer unmet information needs among women at genetic risk of breast cancer participating in a one-on-one peer support

Modest evidence of less urinary leakage and less severe incontinence symptoms among men with prostate cancer with persistent urinary incontinence participating in an intervention of biofeedback and a support group

Symptoms and side effects not specific to cancer

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better quality of life among people with distressing physical and mental conditions

Preliminary evidence of less stress among bereaved men participating in a bereavement support group

Preliminary evidence of fewer health-care visits among bereaved men participating in a bereavement support group

Keep reading about support groups and interventions

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
View profile

Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
View profile

Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: October 7, 2022

Last full literature review: October 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

References[+]