The buddy system is a time-honored tradition that has helped countless schoolchildren make it through field trips successfully, and now researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have found that the buddy system is also helpful for adult women. This new study shows that “patient navigators,” peers who helped patients to navigate the medical system and break down personal barriers to accessing health care, increased the screening rates for breast and cervical cancer among women in rural areas of Texas.

From a University of Texas press release:

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The study, led by UT Austin social work doctoral student Derek Falk and published in the Journal of Cancer Education, evaluates the Friend to Friend plus Patient Navigation Program. Patient navigators are trained individuals who guide consumers through a complex and often fragmented health care system in order to improve individual and system-wide outcomes.

The program was funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and implemented by Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University. It targets low-income women in approximately 50 rural and border counties.

Researchers focused on a combination of cancer education through peer-led “pink parties,” along with the trained navigators who helped participants break through personal barriers that prevented them from accessing screenings, such as cost and transportation.

The researchers found that many women participated in the program because they needed help paying for screenings. Many women remain under or uninsured and struggle to afford preventive health care. Navigators helped participants in this program access funds provided by CPRIT or other sources of which the participants may have been unaware.

“Every year, more than 20,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Texas, and 1 in 5 of them will die. Early detection through screenings can make a world of difference,” Falk said. “This program has been effective in increasing screenings among low-income, minority women living in rural areas, who suffer poorer cancer-related outcomes.”

The program, funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and implemented by Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University, targets low-income women in approximately 50 rural and border counties. Although previous studies have shown the effectiveness of using patient navigators to increase cancer screening rates, this is one of the first studies that focuses specifically on women living in rural and border areas.

The study, which analyzed data from 2,689 women, showed that this program was particularly effective among Spanish-speaking Latina women who had a more than 60 percent increase in the likelihood of obtaining a Pap screening compared with non-Hispanic white women.

“This positive finding for Latinas is important to highlight because they experience much higher incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer compared to other ethnic groups in Texas,” Catherine Cubbin, co-author of the study and associate dean for research at UT Austin’s School of Social Work, said.


Featured photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons licensed

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