Despite the phenomenal growth during the past decade of cancer self-help groups for adult patients with cancer, little research has been conducted to document the interface between these groups and healthcare professionals, especially physicians. This study was initiated to provide information about family physician practices, awareness, and attitudes about self-help groups.
A survey questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of Ontario family physicians drawn from the College of Family Physicians of Canada's membership database.
A total of 911 completed questionnaires were returned, for a response rate of 64%. A majority (56.8%) of respondents were aware of at least one cancer self-help group in their region; 26.8% of these spoke frequently with their cancer patients about such groups. Most family physicians indicated that they were positively inclined toward cancer self-help groups, giving especially high ratings of helpfulness to sharing common experiences, overcoming isolation, feeling understood, and sharing information. Ratings of potential harm were low, with the most concern expressed about the possible provision of misinformation and the promotion of unconventional therapies. Responses to an open-ended question showed that many family physicians qualify their support for cancer self-help groups, depending on patient need, group composition, and leadership.
Family physicians and other members of the cancer care team should give increased attention to informing cancer patients about the potential benefits of self-help groups. Efforts need to be made to assist cancer self-help groups in developing informational brochures and to ensure that groups are listed in cancer resource directories. Educational initiatives about self-help groups would be useful for family physicians and other health professionals engaged in the care of cancer patients.