For female patients with an abnormal breast or cervical cancer screening result, patient navigation services help to decrease the time to diagnosis. Patient navigation also helps vulnerable populations get the care they need in a timely manner.

This study was conduced at six federally qualified inner-city community health centers affiliated with Boston Medical Center (BMC) between 2004 and 2008. During the intervention, 1,497 female patients received patient navigation services and 1,544 were in the control group. The study participants were all followed for 1 year to document if all the recommended tests were completed and if cancer was diagnosed in the women.

For the women who received navigation services, diagnoses occurred in significantly less time, and they were more likely to ever complete their care compared with control patients. Patient navigation services include identifying those patients at risk for delays in treatment, facilitating appointment scheduling by identifying and addressing barriers that may interfere with this care. Barriers can include child care and transportation services, coordinating care among numerous providers, organizing interpreter services, and providing guidance and support so patients can advocate for themselves.

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Low-income patients of racial or ethnic minorities often do not have access to timely, quality cancer treatment and services. Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death among women of all races and Hispanic origin populations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that more black and Hispanic women develop HPV-associated cervical cancer more than do women of other races or ethnicities. This may be because these women have less access to Pap testing or follow-up treatment.

“The goal of patient navigation is to facilitate timely care for these vulnerable patients by addressing barriers to care,” said Tracy Battaglia, MD, MPH, director of the Women’s Health Unit at BMC and lead author of the study. “This study confirms the long presumed benefit of navigation for vulnerable populations and supports recent standard recommendations for all cancer centers to provide patient navigation services to their patients, especially those whose patients are at risk for delays in care.” 

This study was reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (2012;21:1645-1654).