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Online Support Eases Breast Cancer Stress

Talking with others brings understanding, researchers say

THURSDAY, March 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Women struggling with breast cancer can benefit greatly from online support groups, new research suggests.

These groups provide emotional benefits for breast cancer patients who can openly express their feelings in ways that help them make sense of their cancer experience, report researchers at the Center of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Even though there are many women with breast cancer participating in online support groups, this is among the first research studies to demonstrate measurable benefits from participation in such groups," study lead author Bret Shaw said in a prepared statement.

The researchers used a computer program to analyze text messages written by 66 breast cancer patients taking part in an online support group. The program measured the percentage of words that were suggestive of learning or understanding, such as aware, feels, know, realize, see, think, and understand.

The study found that higher use of these kinds of words in the women's text messages was associated with improved emotional well-being and reduced negative mood in follow-up surveys.

"Computer support groups are often conceived of as places where people exchange information, emotional support and encouragement, but it's interesting that another possible benefit appears to come just from having the opportunity to talk openly and constructively about living with breast cancer independent of actual support they receive from others," Shaw said.

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Health Communication.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers tips for coping with breast cancer.

SOURCE: Center of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research, news release, March 22, 2006
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