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Patient Educ Couns. 2004 Oct;55(1):3-15.

Cancer peer support programs-do they work?

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Centre for Behavioural Research and Program Evaluation, University of Waterloo, 1618 Lyle Hallman Institute, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.


Cancer can be a devastating diagnosis, creating social, emotional, financial and psychological problems. Peer support programs are based on the premise that support from others who have been through a similar experience can help reduce the negative impacts of this disease. While there is strong theoretical rationale for this, empirical evidence that would guide program planning is scarce. We conducted a systematic literature review of evaluation studies published over the last 20 years. Seventeen volunteers delivered peer support programs were reviewed, ranging from needs assessments to randomized controlled trials. The scientific quality was moderate--most lacked a theoretical framework, adequate program descriptions, data on non-participants and validated instruments. Despite these methodological shortcomings, consistent informational, emotional and instrumental benefits were identified. We provide recommendations for practitioners to improve evaluation studies and suggest a research agenda to develop better methods for assessing the contribution of peer support to quality of life.

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