Each year, approximately 70,000 adolescents and young adults (AYAs; age 15-39) are diagnosed with cancer in the United States. AYAs are faced with unique psychosocial challenges when battling cancer during their formative developmental years, some of which are: identity and sexual development, struggles for autonomy, fertility preservation, disruptions in schooling, neurocognitive effects, and isolation from peer and family support networks. Peer support is integral in coping with these challenges, yet cancer treatment can create isolation from friends and family, especially for adolescents and young adults. Connecting with a cancer peer support group may be an important tool for some AYAs to openly share their struggles, help others, and relate to peers who share similar circumstances. Prior research suggests that age, gender, ethnicity, treatment stage, and socioeconomic status warrant further examination as potential barriers to AYA support group participation.
This study is designed to explore preferred styles of peer support among AYA survivors and to identify barriers to peer support group participation within this age group. The study will explore modes of the support (online versus face-to-face), format of the support activity (e.g. group recreational activities, regularly scheduled meetings, virtual blog site), group composition, time-frame of support (e.g. one time group activity, ongoing, episodic use) and how these preferences may vary within and across sub-groups (e.g. by gender, age, ethnicity, cancer treatment stage). The study will utilize focus groups and questionnaires to identify themes of peer-support preferences and social information needs within and between individuals who have and who have not participated in cancer peer support groups.
Research findings will be utilized to increase our understanding of the social information needs and peer support preferences of AYA oncology patients and to inform future innovation of AYA oncology peer support programs.