Objective: To identify models of peer support for cancer patients and systematically review evidence of their effectiveness in improving psychosocial adjustment.
Methods: CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), MEDLINE and PsychINFO databases were used to identify relevant literature published from 1980 to April 2007. Data on characteristics of the peer-support program, sample size, design, measures, and findings were extracted and papers were also rated with respect to research quality (categories 'poor', 'fair' or 'good').
Results: Forty-three research papers that included data from at least 1 group were reviewed in detail, including 26 descriptive papers, 8 non-randomized comparative papers, and 10 papers reporting eight randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Five models of peer support were identified: one-on-one face-to-face, one-on-one telephone, group face-to-face, group telephone, and group Internet.
Conclusion: Papers indicated a high level of satisfaction with peer-support programs; however, evidence for psychosocial benefit was mixed.
Practice implications: One-on-one face-to-face and group Internet peer-support programs should be given priority when considering ways to offer peer support. Nevertheless, the other models discussed in this review should not be dismissed until further research is conducted with a wide range of cancer populations.