Analysing people with head and neck cancers’ use of online support groups



Online support groups have become a familiar source of social support for people with a variety of health issues. To date, no research has investigated the use of such groups by people with head and neck cancer (H&N). The aim of this study was to assess the types of social support, both sought and offered, within online support groups (OSGs) for head and neck cancer. Data was collected from 18 OSGs and two coding schemes; the Social Support Behaviour Code and the scheme of Coursaris & Liu (2009), were used to analyse the content of support-seeking and support-offering messages. The results suggested that the most frequently offered types of social support by group members were informational (43.4%) and emotional (32.4%), followed by esteem (15.6%) and network support (6.1%), whereas little tangible assistance was offered (2.4%). The content of support-seeking messages included group members sharing personal experience (31.5%), with the most frequent sought support being informational support (25.5%). The OSGs can be advantageous to people with H&N cancer, especially for those with appearance or speech problems to mitigate their embarrassment and facilitate interaction with others. The present findings suggest that such OSGs can be promising sources of H&N cancer-related informational and emotional support for the recipients, whether they are patients, family members or carers.

Online support groups; head cancer; neck cancer; social support
Author biographies

Eamar E. Algtewi

Eamar E. Algtewi is a researcher at the School of Dentistry, The University of Sheffield, UK since 2011. He has been awarded his PhD from the University in October 2015, having received his Masters in Dental Public Health from the same university in 2009. He has worked as a dentist and lecturer in Libya after receiving his BDS degree from Garyouns University, Libya in 2001. His most recent research examines online social support for people with head and neck cancer.

Sarah R. Baker

Sarah R. Baker is a professor in Psychology at the School of Dentistry, The University of Sheffield, UK. She joined this School in 2005. Her interest involves psychological adjustment to oral health conditions and their treatment as well as development and evaluation of person-reported outcome measures (PROMs) in dentistry.

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