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Using video-based support groups for rural women with breast cancer

rural California2Support groups can help women with breast cancer reduce pain and emotional distress, while providing a source of encouragement, camaraderie and advice. Yet, as I explained yesterday in a press release, joining support groups is often impractical for breast cancer patients who live in remote areas:

"Women in rural areas have a hard time finding other breast-cancer survivors," said [Cheryl Koopman, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences]. Many wish to communicate with one another, but they can face a number of challenges -- such as snowed-in mountain passes, limited public transportation and high travel costs -- simply getting to support groups, which frequently are located in major cities. Moreover, patients are often too fatigued from cancer treatments to make the trip.

This is what prompted the Sierra-Stanford Partnership, a collaboration between rural-community advocates Joanne Hild and Mary Anne Kreshka, of the Sierra Streams Institute, and Stanford's Koopman. The collaborators are now seeking breast-cancer patients living in one of 27 northern California counties to participate in a study of the effectiveness of support groups conducted via video chat.

This form of support group is different from Internet support groups, because it's more personal, Koopman told me:

Text-based, Internet support groups are already available, but many patients want a more interactive form of communication. "A lot of women tell us they would like to see the support-group leader and one another," Koopman said. The strength of the video-based support group is that breast-cancer patients can see and interact with one another with minimal cost and effort, she said.

The ultimate goal is to help researchers design the best kind of support group for breast-cancer patients who live in rural areas. Information for volunteers interested in participating in the study can be found here.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school's Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Photo by Damian Gadal

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