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Does social support from family and friends work as a buffer against reactions to stressful life events such as terminal cancer?


Objective: To examine the relationship between social support and emotional functioning and stress reactions. Our hypothesis is that patients who reported a high degree of social support will experience better emotional functioning and less serious stress reactions than patients with a low degree of social support.

Method: The sample was comprised of 434 patients at the Palliative Medicine Unit (PMU), University Hospital of Trondheim in Norway. The patients completed a questionnaire monthly including questions about social support from the MacAdam's Scale, subjective stress measured by the Impact of Event Scale (IES), and emotional functioning measured by the subscale in the EORTC QLQ-30.

Results: Although our hypothesis was not supported at the baseline assessment, it was supported at the second assessment, 2 months later. Patients with high social support reported better emotional functioning and less serious stress reactions, in terms of lower scores on the IES avoidance subscale, than patients with a low degree of social support.

Significance of the results: The mixed findings may indicate that social support has only small effects on emotional functioning and stress reactions. Our results on the second assessment indicate, however, that social support might work as a buffer against reactions toward external stressful events such as terminal cancer.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Gerd Inger Ringdal, Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), N-7491 Trondheim, Norway. E-mail:
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Palliative & Supportive Care
  • ISSN: 1478-9515
  • EISSN: 1478-9523
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