Cancer support groups provide a setting in which cancer patients can talk about living with cancer with others who may be having similar experiences. Much of the sociological construction of these groups is similar to other kinds of other types of support groups.
Although the experience of people diagnosed with cancer varies greatly from one person to another, they all need a good support system in order to cope throughout the different stages of the process. Different support systems have thus been developed including community support groups, online cancer support groups, networks, forums, and charitable organizations. Community support groups are usually led by psychologists, social workers, and medical professionals and can take place in churches, hospitals, or community centers.
Online support groups and forums are a good option for those patients who find it difficult to leave their home during treatment. People participating in such forums have the possibility to maintain their anonymity. Support systems range from those that address patients suffering from specific types of cancer to those that support patients suffering from any kind of cancer.
Apart from having to cope with the physical and medical challenges, people with cancer face many worries, feelings, and concerns unique to their situation. Cancer patients may find they need help coping with the emotional as well as the practical aspects of their disease. In fact, attention to the emotional burden of having cancer is often a part of a patient's treatment plan. The support of the health care team (doctors, nurses, social workers), support groups, and patient-to-patient networks can help people feel less isolated and distressed, and improve the quality of their lives.
More importantly cancer support groups can provide access to the most current information regarding available treatments. Anyone suffering from an uncommon form of cancer should consider joining a specialized online community to gain access to information often not available anywhere else. Cancer support groups provide a setting in which cancer patients can talk about living with cancer with others who may be having similar experiences.
Also, patients may have different concerns stemming from their particular situation in life which may warrant a special support group that caters specifically to their needs. For example, there are support groups dedicated to helping women of certain ages through their cancer experience. Patients may want to speak to a member of their health care team about finding a support group that best suits their needs. Many also find useful basic information in NCI fact sheets and booklets, including "Taking Time and Facing Forward".
Apart from various improvements in confidence, wellbeing, stress, and interpersonal comfort, cancer support groups are being studied for their direct effects on improving health of people who attend them. Some small-scale tests have compared members of a breast cancer support group at Stanford against a control group and found significant benefits associated with group membership. These studies are currently being repeated on a larger scale. Some theories about these benefits ascribe health improvements to reduced stress from talking about emotional issues, the placebo effect, learning about treatment options through interaction with others with common issues. A large-scale research project of cancer online communities is ongoing and may provide some answers about the use of cancer online mailing lists by their subscribers.
The American Cancer Society has developed the Cancer Survivors Network aimed to help cancer survivors, families and friends find and communicate with others who share their interests and experiences.
The Cancer Support Community is an international non-profit that offers personalized services and education to support people affected by cancer. This initiative started operations after The Wellness Community and Gilda's Club joined together to provide psychological and social support through their network of 50 local affiliates, more than 100 satellite locations and online services.
Macmillan Cancer Support is a cancer care and support charity in the UK devoted to help improve the lives of people affected by any kind of cancer. It was founded in 1911 by Douglas Macmillan and it is now the largest of its kind in the UK. They support people living with cancer, their families and carers as well. The ways in which they help are very broad and address information needs as well as practical, emotional and financial support. On the one hand, they provide information leaflets, specialist medical care and support. Moreover, this organization fights discrimination and campaign for changes in policy, legislation and practice.
Macmillan also funds nurses and other specialists in health and social care professionals. They have funded over 4,000 health and social care professionals across the UK. These professionals helped 432,000 people in 2008 that included not only cancer patients and their families, but also carers and friends. Macmillan works together with NHS, local authorities, Citizens Advice and other cancer charities.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a non-profit organization created in 1982 to raise money for research and awareness of breast cancer. It is the world's largest network of breast cancer survivors and activists as well as the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.
CanCare is a non-profit cancer support network with a mission to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and their families. This support comes from trained volunteers who themselves have experienced and survived a cancer diagnosis or have been a caregiver to someone who has.
Nepal Cancer Support Group (NCSG) is a non government organization registered to Nepal Government was established in 2010 with an intention to promote awareness regarding cancer prevention, screening, treatment, counselling, experience sharing and advocacy by accumulating cancer survivors,their family members, health professionals, social workers, interested individuals and volunteers to form a group. This group is led by Medical Oncologist Sudeep Shrestha of Nepal.
LIVESTRONG is a global cancer support and research organization. It originated from the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF), which was founded by Lance Armstrong in 1997, after he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in 1996. Their motto is “Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything.” They are about helping people live their life with cancer and helping them fight to overcome it. They provide support and resources to all people affected by cancer. They help fund cancer research, as well as do their own research projects.
Additionally, they have a platform to influence public policy to help everyone affected by cancer on the local, national, and global level. Globally, they are helping all countries develop and adopt a national cancer plan, and encouraging governments to support efforts to reduce cancer stigma. Nationally, they are trying to make it easier for cancer patients to have access to quality cancer care. Locally, they are trying to increase investments in cancer research and support programs.
Stand Up to Cancer (shortened to S↑2C or SU2C) is a charity program designed to raise funds for cancer research. It was established by media, entertainment, and philanthropic leaders who were diagnosed with cancer. Their premise is to spread awareness that everyone is affected by cancer. They use the statistic “One out of two men, and one out of three women, will be diagnosed with cancer” to emphasize that cancer affects everyone, whether they are diagnosed or know someone who has been diagnosed.
They kick started their campaign with a telethon in September 2008 that raised over $100 million. Since then, they have had many different fundraising methods, including their Mobile Giving campaign, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars, and their online project, The Constellation, where people can “launch a star” for a dollar in honor of friends, family, and loved ones in their lives who are dealing with cancer.
Bear Necessities is a cancer foundation created to help eliminate pediatric cancer and to provide hope and support to those affected by it. It was created by eight-year-old Barrett “Bear” Krupa and his mother. Bear was battling a Wilms Tumor for five and half years, and during that time, he was dedicated to helping other people fight pediatric cancer, more than he was concerned with himself. This foundation was created in memory of him in order to help others beat pediatric cancer.
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK's only charity dedicated to those affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. It offers a range of online and face to face support and information including: information materials, a Helpline 0808 802 8000, online forum, local support groups and an Ask the Expert service.
Imerman Angels was created on the belief that no one should have to fight cancer alone and provides 1-on-1 cancer support by pairing those diagnosed with cancer with 'Mentor Angels' (survivors) who have survived the same kind of cancer. The service is free and helps anyone touched by any type of cancer, at any time, anywhere in the world.
Additionally, online support communities can assist in self-management of the disease. Effective self-management of a disease can help alleviate costs associated with health care.
Support for rare cancers is particularly problematic, as patients may be a long way from specialist treatment centres, and also from other patients with whom they might gain support and advice. The advent of the internet has allowed support groups for these rare cancers to emerge on a global basis, providing one to one and group oriented advice and support to patients and their families who may live on different continents, yet are able to share symptoms, experiences and advice, for example on diet or pain relief.
Organisations such as European Organisation for Rare Diseases assist in coordinating and providing support for such organisations. Examples of such support groups include pseudomyxomasurvivor who provide support for patients suffering from pseudomyxoma peritonei and have active communities particularly in the USA and Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as continental Europe.