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Talking -- or Not Talking -- Can Give Cancer Patients a Sense of Control

FRIDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Having control over how to communicate with family, friends and colleagues about their disease helps cancer patients cope with their situation, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin interviewed cancer survivors about strategies they used in managing information about their illness, how they handled conversations about their condition, challenges they faced, advice they received, and recommendations they would make to others.

The results showed that communication is an important element in coping with cancer because it gives patients a sense of control during an extremely difficult time, the researchers said.

But they also found that it's not possible to predict or control other people's reactions, despite cancer patients' best efforts to structure and control communication.

"Our study suggests that the very act of taking steps to be protective when communicating about cancer may benefit people because doing so empowers them during a time characterized by so much helplessness," Erin Donovan-Kicken, an assistant professor of communication studies, said in a university news release.

Cancer patients said it helped to be able to tell even well-meaning family and friends that they needed space; that they needed to focus on themselves without needing to support others; and to avoid people who were sad or overly solicitous.

The study appeared in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers tips for coping with cancer in everyday life.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Texas at Austin, news release, August 2011

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