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Cancer patients want information

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UAMS NEWS RELEASE

A new study conducted at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) finds that many cancer patients would prefer to receive health information rather than emotional aid from support groups, although – over time – their needs could change.

“There's a good deal of research about what kinds of groups are helpful for cancer patients, but less information about what they themselves are looking for,” said Allen Sherman, Ph.D., lead author of a new study of 425 patients diagnosed with a variety of cancers. The study appears in the September-October issue of the journal, Psychosomatics.

Although clinicians and others frequently advise cancer patients to join support groups to deal with the psychological consequences of their diagnosis, a minority of cancer patients actually join.

Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they would be interested in attending a group. Although Sherman said that this “doesn't mean they would necessarily vote with their feet,” he did say, “It was higher than we expected to find.” Sherman is director of the Behavioral Medicine Program in the UAMS Arkansas Cancer Research Center.

Most study participants wanted practical medical information about cancer delivered immediately after diagnosis or during treatment. About twice as many chose medical information (38 percent) over emotional support (20 percent), and 30 percent wanted a focus on wellness and health promotion.

Eighty-two percent wanted groups to include discussion of spiritual issues; however, Sherman said that his subjects came predominantly from the Bible Belt, so this finding might not apply to cancer patients in other parts of the country.

The study also found that cancer patients preferred “drop-in” groups that they could attend as needed — and that nearly half did not mind if the groups contained people with many different types of cancer.

Although recent data suggest that such groups do not increase survival time, they do improve coping skills, mood and quality of life.

Other studies have shown that once people begin to participate in groups, their preferences shift. New members tend to seek medical information, but established members most value the emotional support and sense of community.

UAMS is the state's only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,435 students and 715 medical residents. It is one of the state's largest public employers with about 9,400 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS' Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit www.uams.edu.

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