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Cancer Screening: Interventions Engaging Community Health Workers – Breast Cancer


What the CPSTF Found

About The Systematic Review

The CPSTF recommendation is based on evidence from a systematic review of 66 studies (search period through July 2017). Included studies evaluated intervention effects on breast (36 studies), cervical (29 studies), or colorectal (17 studies) cancer screening use—services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2016a External Web Site Icon, 2018 External Web Site Icon, 2016b External Web Site Icon, respectively).

The systematic review was conducted on behalf of the CPSTF by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to cancer prevention and control.

Summary of Results

Detailed results from the systematic review are available in the CPSTF Finding and Rationale Statement.

The systematic review included 66 studies. Studies evaluated intervention effects on breast (36 studies), cervical (29 studies), or colorectal (17 studies) cancer screening use.

Breast Cancer Screening

  • Interventions that engaged community health workers, alone or as part of a team, increased breast cancer screening by a median of 12.7 percentage points when compared with no intervention or usual care (35 studies).

Breast, Cervical, or Colorectal Cancer Screening

The following results are based on an analysis of all included studies across breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer screening. Stratified analyses were performed for each cancer type and findings were comparable.

  • When compared to interventions that increase community demand or access alone, interventions that aimed to both increase community demand, and access to, screening services reported the largest increases in screening rates (median increase of 18.5 percentage points, 22 studies with 24 study arms).
  • Interventions engaged community health workers to implement between one and six intervention components.
    • While all of the studies reported increases in cancer screening, larger increases were seen when community health workers implemented more intervention components.
    • Interventions that provided group education produced larger increases in cancer screening (15.0 percentage points, 31 studies with 35 study arms) than those that provided one-on-one education (9.8 percentage points, 37 studies with 42 study arms).
    • Among studies that aimed to increase access to screening services, larger increases were reported when community health workers assisted with translation (30.2 percentage points, 4 studies with 4 study arms) or transportation barriers (26.8 percentage points, 9 studies with 9 study arms).
  • Lower baseline screening rates were associated with greater increases.

Summary of Economic Evidence

Detailed results from the systematic review are available in the CPSTF Finding and Rationale Statement.

The systematic review of economic evidence included five studies specific to breast cancer screening by mammography (search period through April 2019). Monetary values are reported in 2018 U.S. dollars.

  • There was not enough economic evidence to determine cost-effectiveness for interventions engaging CHWs to increase breast cancer screening because none of the included studies reported incremental cost per quality-adjusted life year gained.
  • The median cost per person was $1,578 for an intervention in the United Kingdom during which CHWs promoted cancer screening and helped clients manage chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
  • The median cost per person was $58 for CHW interventions in the United States (2 studies).
  • The median incremental cost per additional woman screened was $215 in the United States (1 study) and $7,891 in the United Kingdom (1 study of a comprehensive CHW intervention).


Based on results from studies that assessed intervention effectiveness on breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer screening rates, findings should be applicable to a wide range of populations, across education and income levels, employment and insurance status, and race/ethnicity. Findings should be applicable to interventions set in healthcare systems or communities.

Evidence Gaps

The CPSTF identified several areas that have limited information. Additional research and evaluation could help answer the following questions and fill remaining gaps in the evidence base. (What are evidence gaps?)

  • What is the impact of these interventions on repeat screening?
  • Are these interventions effective among American Natives/Alaska Natives?
  • Is intervention effectiveness influenced by any of the following?
    • Participants’ health literacy
    • Supervision of community health workers
    • Compensation for community health workers
    • Inclusion of community health workers in research and evaluation
  • How does community health worker training affect outcomes? What is the best way to train them for this type of work?
  • Are these interventions cost-beneficial?

Study Characteristics

The following characteristics describe included studies across all three cancer types.

  • Studies were conducted in urban and rural areas of the United States (62 studies) and other high-income countries (8 studies).
  • Participants reported a mean age of 53 years and represented African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and white populations.