A diagnosis of breast cancer is a psychologically stressful event Internet Support Groups Effective for Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer (dateline June 30, 2003) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Internet Support Groups Effective for Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer (dateline June 30, 2003)

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a psychologically stressful event for any woman. Many women seek the support of group or individual therapy to deal with the emotional hardships of the disease. Now, two new studies find that Internet support groups are also effective at lifting the spirits of breast cancer patients. In particular, the studies found that Internet support was helpful at relieving depression and stress from breast cancer. The researchers suggest that "web-based support" may be especially helpful for women who live in rural areas and lack sufficient social resources.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, aside from non-melanoma skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 211,300 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States in 2003. An additional 55,700 women will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ, an early, non-invasive form of breast cancer. 

It has been widely reported that cancer patients who participate in support groups experience a reduction in the psychological pain and stress associated with their disease. However, little information has been available about the effectiveness of web-based support systems even though the Pew Charitable Trust estimates that approximately two million American adults search for health or medical information on the Internet and nearly 5 million Americans are part of online support groups.

To study Internet-based support groups, Andrew J. Winzelberg, Ph.D. of Stanford University School of Medicine and his colleagues studied 72 women with breast cancer who participated in 12 weeks of Internet-based "therapy" through the Bosom Buddies online support group. The results showed that online support was effective at reducing depression and stress among the breast cancer patients. Most participants felt that they benefited from the experience.

In a similar study, Morton A. Lieberman, Ph.D. of the University of California at San Francisco and his colleagues studied 32 women, divided into four groups, who participated in 16 weeks of online support for breast cancer. Approximately half of the women lived in rural areas or small towns, 41% lived in medium cities, and 10% lived in large cities. The study found a reduction in depression and improvement on a post-traumatic events questionnaire after the online therapy.

Dr. Lieberman’s team also found that the 20% of women who withdrew from the study tended to have higher levels of anxiety compared to the other women and appeared to be more likely to suppress their thoughts and feelings regarding their disease. The researchers conclude that their findings are encouraging and that Internet support groups may be particularly helpful for women who live in rural areas where support systems are not widely available to them. In addition, the no-cost benefit of online support groups may be advantageous for some women.

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