Cancer Support Groups and Communities

Being diagnosed with cancer may be one of the most stressful experiences of a person's life. The journey is often long and filled with unknowns. Joining a cancer support group may help ease some of the stress. A cancer support group provides a place to discuss fears and challenges with others who know are going through the same thing. These groups also offer education and additional resources.

Women participating in support group

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Focus of Support Groups and Communities

The goal of most cancer support groups and communities is to provide a place where members can openly discuss their feelings, experiences, and challenges in their cancer journey. While family members can be a great source of support, it is probably difficult for them to truly understand what having cancer is like. Fellow cancer survivors in these groups can share in your fears and frustrations, as well as provide new perspectives and hope. 

Support groups also share practical information, such as how to reduce nausea from chemotherapy or what exercise programs are safe. Group leaders may provide education on treatments, side effects, how to work with the oncology team, and more. 

Studies have shown that patients with cancer feel more in control and less depressed after attending support group meetings. Having a community to rely on can help to reduce feelings of anxiety as well. 

Types of Support Groups

There are several types of cancer support groups. If you’re unsure about sitting in a room with a large group, consider joining a smaller group or an online community. There are also other resources that can help you on your journey. 

In-Person Groups

In-person support groups vary in size and style, and include:

  • Peer-led groups are led by members of the group who are also undergoing cancer treatment
  • In a professional-led group, a provider such as a psychologist or social worker leads the group
  • Informational support groups focus on education, and often invite specialists to lead discussions and provide information, such as physicians, nurses, physical therapists, dieticians, and psychologists

Online Support Groups and Communities

In-person support groups can be incredibly helpful, but they’re not for everyone. If you’re not comfortable meeting with others in person or there are no groups in your area, look into a cancer support community online.

A 2017 study found that members of both in-person and online support groups reported a positive experience and they felt empowered in their decision-making. Online support groups may be more popular with younger patients and those with more advanced disease. 

Online groups and communities vary in style and focus. Social media has paved the way for informal groups where members can post about their experiences or ask questions and receive comments from thousands of members. There are also discussion groups and message boards that work similarly. Before setting up a profile, be sure to read the group’s privacy practices and moderation policies. 

There are also more formal online groups that are sponsored by a cancer center or organization. These groups are usually led or moderated by a professional who can answer member’s questions. While group members may share helpful information, it’s always best to bring your questions to your doctor or medical team. 

These groups are usually a great choice if you have a rare type of cancer since they can give you a chance to connect with others with the same diagnosis from around the country and world. 

There are also resources like Caring Bridge that allow you to share your journey with family and friends. This can be a convenient way to update everyone in your circle at once, rather than trying to respond to everyone’s calls and text messages. The site allows family and friends to send you messages and comment on your posts. 

Individual Support

If a support group does not feel like the right fit there are other options for you. You could meet with a psychologist or therapist for emotional support and to learn coping skills. 

For in-the-moment support, the American Cancer Society has a 24/7 helpline staffed by cancer information specialists. Call 1-800-227-2345 with your questions or support needs any time of day. The helpline offers support in over 200 different languages. The American Cancer Society also provides individual resources for cancer patients, such as rides to medical appointments and lodging assistance. 

Finding a Support Community

There are support groups for cancer patients, family members, and caregivers. Some groups support a specific group of people based on their gender, type of cancer, or age. 

Take some time to think about what you’d like out of a support group. Some questions to consider include:

  • Would you prefer emotional support, practical education, or both?
  • Are you open to traveling to an in-person group or do you prefer to seek support from home?
  • Do you feel comfortable sharing your feelings in a large group or would you prefer an online setting?

Ask your medical team for resources and recommendations based on the type of group you are looking for. Both the Cancer Research Network and the American Cancer Society provide resources for finding a group.

There are thousands of support groups out there. If you tried one that didn’t feel like a good fit, there may be another group that has what you are looking for. 

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Article Sources
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  1. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Support Groups. Updated January 24, 2019.

  2. Cancer.Net. Support Groups. Updated December 2018.

  3. Huber J, Muck T, Maatz P, Keck B, Enders P, Maatouk I, Ihrig A. Face-to-face vs. online peer support groups for prostate cancer: A cross-sectional comparison study. J Cancer Surviv. 2018 Feb;12(1):1-9. doi: 10.1007/s11764-017-0633-0. 

  4. American Cancer Society. How We’re Providing Support. Updated 2020.

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