NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Challenges Assumption That Support Groups Extend Life

December 13, 2001

More than a decade ago, a small and inconclusive study claimed that support groups could substantially prolong patients' lives. But fearing that many cancer patients were being pushed to join support groups -- whether they wanted to or not -- a group of researchers recruited 235 women with advanced breast cancer to make a comparison about the effectiveness of such groups.

  • The women were divided into two groups, with 158 being assigned to support groups -- providing what experts call "supportive/expressive therapy" -- and 77 who would not attend the groups.
  • Those assigned to support groups had a median survival time of 17.9 months.
  • Those who did not go to the groups had a median survival time of 17.6 months -- a statistically insignificant difference.

Physicians who are cancer specialists and who have reviewed the study praise it for being large enough to be definitive -- and use such phrases as "totally well controlled" and "quite conclusive."

Source: Gina Kolata, "Study Rebuts Belief that Support Groups Can Extend Life," New York Times, December 13, 2001; based on Pamela J. Goodwin et al., "The Effect of Group Psychosocial Support on Survival in Metastatic Breast Cancer," New England Journal of Medicine, December 13, 2001.


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