Support Groups

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2021

Many people diagnosed with cancer find it helpful to be part of a cancer support group. This is a place where you can talk about and work through the feelings and challenges you experience with other people who have gone through similar experiences. Support groups give people diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers a chance to learn from and support each other.

How can cancer support groups help?

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you may experience shock, anger, or disbelief. You may feel intense sadness, fear, and a sense of loss. Even the most supportive family members and friends cannot understand exactly how it feels unless they have received a cancer diagnosis themselves. This may cause you to feel lonely, misunderstood, or isolated.

Finding a support group is a way for you to interact with other people who have similar, first-hand experiences with cancer. You can talk to them about their experiences and share your own. This can help reduce stress.

In a cancer support group, members can feel more comfortable sharing feelings and experiences that may be too difficult or too awkward to share with their family and friends. Being part of a group often creates a sense of belonging that helps each person feel more understood and less alone.

You can also discuss practical information in a support group. This may include what to expect during treatment, how to manage specific side effects, how to find support services, and how to communicate with health care providers and family members. Talking about these topics within the support group could provide a sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness as you cope with cancer.

Many studies have shown that support groups help people with cancer cope with anxiety and depression. Support groups can also help people feel more hopeful and manage their emotions better. However, it's important to find a support group that feels like a good fit for you. And, being part of a support group doesn't feel right at all to some people. They may benefit more from other sources of support.

What types of cancer support groups are there?

There are different kinds of support groups that offer support in different ways. Try to find a group that works best for your needs. Types of support groups include:

Peer-led or self-help groups. These support groups are run by group members.

Professional-led support groups. A counselor, social worker, psychologist, or other trained professional may lead the conversation among the members.

Informational support groups. These groups are led by a professional facilitator. They provide cancer-related information and education. These groups often invite speakers, such as doctors and nurses, who provide expert advice.

Groups may also be designed for specific audiences, including:

  • All individuals with cancer

  • People with a specific type of cancer

  • People within a certain age group

  • People who have a specific stage of cancer

  • Caregivers, such as family members and friends

Where do support groups meet?

Support groups can meet in person or online. Both types of support groups can be helpful and you may choose to do one or the other, or both.

In-person support groups can meet in a variety of places, including cancer centers, local hospitals, or community facilities. This type of support group provides people with the opportunity to have direct contact with other group members. You may be able to reach out to someone in advance to learn more about what a typical meeting is like.

Online support groups can be a convenient option when an in-person group is too far away or travel is not advised due to health reasons. Or, some people find it easier to share feelings with others in a virtual setting. Online support groups may also allow people with a rare type of cancer to more easily communicate with others who have the same type of cancer.

There are different types of online support groups, including:

  • Message boards or discussion groups allow people to post a message, and others can reply to it.

  • Specific groups, pages, or chats on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. These may be "closed" (admission by pre-approval of the group's organizer) or open to everyone. Learn more about using social media during cancer.

  • Chat rooms allow members to communicate with each other in real time by typing messages back and forth.

  • Video chat support groups are run like an in-person support group, but participants meet via a video conferencing service such as Skype or Zoom.

  • Email lists or listservs send messages written by group members to the entire group.

Read more about online communities for support, including online privacy considerations.

How do I choose a support group?

To decide which type of support group may fit you best, consider your needs, personality, and practical considerations like technology or meeting set-up:

  • Are you hoping to gain emotional support, information and education about cancer, or a combination from your participation?

  • Do you prefer to connect with others who have been diagnosed with the same type of cancer and/or at the same stage of disease?

  • Are you more comfortable sharing your feelings and experiences in person or online?

  • How often does the group meet? When? For how long?

  • If it is in person, where does it meet? How is a typical meeting run?

  • If it is online, what technology is used? How is information shared between group members?

  • Who leads or organizes the group?

How to find a support group

Here are some ways you can find a support group. If you find several options, keep a list in case you'd like to try different groups or switch groups in the future.

What if I don't like support groups?

Support groups are one way that people with cancer can find support. However, some people may not be interested in joining a support group. Or, you may join a support group and find that it is not helpful for you. If so, consider:

Related Resources

Finding Social Information and Support

How Can People with Cancer Use Social Media to Find Support?

Finding a Support Buddy

Finding Information and Support Resources for Rare Cancers

More Information

CancerCare: Support Groups

Cancer Support Community: Find a Location

National Cancer Institute: Organizations That Offer Support Services