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Updated 10:00 AM November 24, 2008
 

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Cancer survival rates impact type of Web communities used by patients

Online support communities for high survival rate cancers contain a greater amount of emotional support content than online support communities for cancers with low survival rates, according to a new study from the U-M Health System (UMHS) and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

The researchers also found that support communities for low survival rate cancers contain a greater amount of informational support content than online support communities for high survival rate cancers.

"Online communities have become an important resource for individuals seeking emotional and informational social support related to cancer," says senior author Dr. Caroline Richardson, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UMHS.

The study — led by Lorraine Buis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System — assessed differences in emotional and informational social support content in online communities for cancers with high and low survival rates.

The researchers also found that, overall, emotional support was more prevalent than informational support across all communities and all types of cancers.

Both emotional and informational support widely is available within online communities for cancer, but not all of these sites are created equally, Buis says.

"When primary care providers refer individuals to online communities for support, they should be aware that there might be differing amounts of support based on the survival rare of a particular cancer," she says. Buis also explains that not only are such online communities for patients, "but they help family and friends cope with the struggles that cancer presents."

Until Richardson's and Buis's most recent study, there had been no previous research on the influence of patients' cancer survival rates on social support content within online support communities for cancer.

Participants in this study all were reviewed under the same time period, were online community members who participated in online support communities for four different types of cancer — lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and melanoma — and participated in eight different online communities in the investigation.

The study was presented last week at the annual meeting of the North American Primary Care Research Group. In addition to Buis and Richardson, Pamela Whitten of Michigan State University also was an author of the study.

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