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Survey finds low participation in cancer support groups

Programs like "Look Good...Feel Better" help cancer patients cope with the physical and emotional aspects of their illness.  

From Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

March 3, 1999
Web posted at: 8:56 p.m. EST (0156 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new national survey of female cancer patients and cancer doctors has found that while cancer support programs are held in high regard and considered an important part of patient recovery, participation in them remains low.

Of the women surveyed in the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association's poll, only a quarter had ever participated in a support program even though previous studies have shown these groups help patients better deal with the physical and emotion impact of treatments such as chemotherapy.

For cancer patients like Carole Fay the "Look Good...Feel Better" program, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, National Cosmetology Association and the Costmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, helps her cope with her illness.

"Even though there has been a lot of change in attitude about cancer, people still, I think -- when you hear your name associated with it -- are frightened," Fay said.

Harriet Novarr has been battling breast cancer for nine years, she said support group sessions encourage her to keep fighting.

With participants so pleased with the groups, some physicians feel patients don't take advantage of support programs because doctors don't push them to.

Some cancer patients recover faster with support groups
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The poll found that doctors had favorable views toward support groups and mentioned them to their patients, but did not strongly recommend them.

Dr. Julia Rowlands of Georgetown University, a psychologist who participates in the cancer support group program, said despite two major studies crediting such groups with longer survival, doctors don't push them enough.

"They feel it's not their role, that they are there to take care of the purely medical or physical aspects," Rowlands said.

Inova Fairfax Hospital medical oncologist Dr. John Miller says doctors forget healing the mind can help heal the body.

"If you deal with that up front, and get that in place, your ability as a physician to care for that person is greatly enhanced and outcomes are better," Miller said.

He admits he used to just mention such programs, but the difference in his patients attending support groups convinced him to actually start one.

"They (patients participating in support groups) are more likely to be complying with their medications, less likely to be depressed and actually in some studies people have quicker rehabilitation," Miller said.

American Cancer Society
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