Prosocial Internet support group not proving beneficial for breast cancer survivors

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(HealthDay News) -- A prosocial Internet support group (ISG) that encourages breast cancer survivors with elevated anxiety or depression to help others may not be beneficial, according to a study published online Nov. 17 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Stephen J. Lepore, Ph.D., from Temple University in Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a two-armed randomized controlled trial with pre- and post-test assessments to compare the efficacy of a standard ISG (S-ISG) and an enhanced prosocial ISG (P-ISG). Participants included 184 women diagnosed in the past 36 months with nonmetastatic breast cancer who reported elevated anxiety or depression. Six professionally facilitated live chat sessions and access to an asynchronous discussion board were included as part of both groups; P-ISG also included structured opportunities to help and encourage others.

The researchers found that participants in the P-ISG exhibited more supportive behaviors, posted more "other-focused" messages and fewer "self-focused" messages, and expressed less negative emotion compared with the S-ISG participants. After the intervention, participants in the P-ISG had a higher level of depression and anxiety symptoms relative to participants in the S-ISG.

"Despite the successful manipulation of supportive behaviors, the P-ISG did not produce better mental health outcomes in distressed survivors of breast cancer relative to an S-ISG," the authors write. "Helping others may not be beneficial as a treatment for distressed survivors of breast cancer."

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