Objective: To conduct a systematic review of literature reporting on the use of volunteers in support programs for people with cancer. Methods: PsycINFO, Medline and CINAHL were used to identify papers published up to April 2007 reporting one-to-one support programs using volunteers. Program data were extracted from the papers, which were rated on research quality and descriptions of the program, volunteers and support recipients. Results: Twenty-eight papers were reviewed. Nineteen (69%) reported peer-support programs, with four (14%) pertaining to the Reach to Recovery program for women with breast cancer, and eight (28%) describing other peer-support programs for women with breast cancer. Few papers described the programs sufficiently to enable a good understanding of support recipients, volunteers, and what transpired between volunteers and support recipients. Twenty papers (71%) were research studies: 10 (36%) with one group descriptive data, 6 (21%) were nonrandomized comparative studies and 4 (14%) were randomized controlled trials. Conclusion: While most papers reported that programs were beneficial, few presented data from studies using rigorous research methodologies to support these claims. Practice implications: Using volunteers in cancer care may have merits; however, papers need to provide more information regarding these programs and further evidence is required to determine their effectiveness.
Patient Education and Counseling Vol. 70, Issue 1, p. 10-24