According to a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the participation in a support group does not appear to improve survival in patients with metastatic breast cancer. However, an improvement in psychological distress and pain has been reported by patients who participate in support groups.
Metastatic breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread from the breast to distant sites in the body. Often, patients with this advanced stage of cancer join a support group lead by a group therapist whose members are patients who are suffering from the same or similar disease. This type of group emphasizes creating a new social support network, expressing emotion, confronting existential issues, improving relationships with family and friends, enhancing communication with physicians and learning coping skills.
Recently, a multi-institutional clinical study was conducted to evaluate the effects of participation in a support group of patients with metastatic breast cancer. In this study, 235 women with metastatic breast cancer were assigned to two groups: one group of patients participated in a support group led by a certified therapist and the other group of patients did not participate in a support group.
The group of patients who participated in a support group reported greater improvement in psychological and emotional symptoms and reported less pain than the group of patients who did not participate in a support group. However, survival was equivalent between the two groups of patients.
These results suggest that although participation in a support group may improve quality of life, it does not appear to prolong survival in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Patients with metastatic breast cancer may wish to participate in a support group to improve psychological distress or pain. (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 345, No 24, pp 1719-1726, 2001)