Background Trials have demonstrated that patients benefit from participation in cancer support groups. However, only a minority of patients join groups. Better understanding of factors predicting patients' intention to join groups and their preferred group formats is required to aid strategies to increase support group attendance and ensure that groups are suited to patients' preferences.
Objective To investigate variables predicting patients' intention to join cancer support groups and the support group formats they would find most useful.
Design Self-completed questionnaires. Factor analysis of patients' perceptions of support groups and the group formats perceived to be most useful. Comparison of patients intending and not intending to join groups and bi-variate correlation analyses of variables associated with preferred group format, using non-parametric and parametric analysis as appropriate.
Setting Recruitment through oncology outpatient clinics shortly after diagnosis.
Participant 192 patients with cancer of the colon (105), lung (57) or bladder (30). Of these, 67% were male and 33% female.
Main Measures Demographic and clinical variables, perceived social support (MSPSS), perceived control and distress over cancer (IPQ-R), strategies for coping with cancer (Brief COPE), functioning and symptoms (EORTC QLQ C30), views and preferences regarding support groups (questionnaires designed from qualitative patient interviews).
Results Variables predicting participants' intention to join a group included worse family support, higher distress, coping through instrumental support seeking and little perceived difficulty in joining. Factors predicting preference for patient-led, emotion-focused groups included being female, higher distress, worse functioning in several domains, and coping through planning, positive reframing, religion, instrumental support seeking, distraction and denial. Preference for professionally led, information-based groups related to active coping and acceptance, lower education and not having a partner. Preferences for both group formats and a general intention to participate were all related to having positive views of groups and being influenced by health professionals' recommendation of groups (all findings at p<0.05). More details of findings, results of multivariate analyses and data on whether patients actually joined a group will be presented at the conference.
Conclusion Patients with different characteristics prefer different support group formats. It is therefore important to tailor group formats to the needs of different groups of patients. In all instances positive perceptions of groups and recommendation from a health professionals increased perceived usefulness of groups and patients' intention to join. Both promotion of a positive image of groups and the recommendation of health professionals should therefore help increase support group attendance.
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