The vital role of social support after cancer

Tuesday 12th December 2017

The vital role of social support after cancer

The latest research from the UK ColoREctal Wellbeing (CREW) study underlines the important role of ongoing social support for people living with and beyond cancer.

The CREW study surveyed almost 900 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer up to two years following their diagnosis. The work was funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and conducted by the Macmillan Survivorship Research Group.

The study offered an opportunity to focus on the relationship between social support and people diagnosed with colorectal cancer; few studies exist in this area despite it being the most common cancer type that affects both genders.

It found that around one third of people report poor and reduced social support following diagnosis and treatment for the disease. Social support is identified as an important risk factor in an individual’s recovery, related to levels of health-related quality of life outcomes, focusing particularly on the difference it makes to a person’s mental health.

The research identified older females from areas of greater deprivation to experience lower, and declining, levels of social support. These people were also more likely to have been diagnosed with rectal cancer, and have co-morbidities.

The findings suggested that this vulnerable group require more targeted professional support throughout their care, with social support discussed from the point of diagnosis as part of a holistic approach to meet their needs.

Carers of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer were also highlighted as needing additional support, especially as the patients’ needs change over time, one suggestion was to ensure they are aware of the support that may be available for their loved one.

The findings underline the need for ongoing meaningful conversations; at diagnosis, throughout treatment and into follow up as an individual’s needs change. These meaningful conversations are sometimes called Holistic Needs Assessments.

This open dialogue would enable health care providers to identify vulnerable patients and put interventions in place to increase support where needed. This could involve signposting to support groups, invitations to health and wellbeing events, increasing patients' confidence in seeking and accepting support from others, and interventions to support carers.

The Macmillan Living with and Beyond Cancer Programme continues to work with Hospital Trusts, GP surgeries, third sector organisations and people affected by cancer to facilitate the roll out of Holistic Needs Assessments regionally. This reflects the recommendations of the CREW study in ensuring people diagnosed with cancer receive care that is personalised and coordinated.

You can read the full study here. here

Haviland J, Sodergren S, Calman L, et al. Social support following diagnosis and treatment for colorectal cancer and associations with health‐related quality of life: Results from the UK ColoREctal Wellbeing (CREW) cohort study. Psycho‐Oncology. 2017;1–9.

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