Building a Navigation System to Reduce Cancer Disparities in Urban Black Older Adults

Background: Although cancer outcomes have improved in recent decades, substantial disparities by race, ethnicity, income and education persist. Increasingly, patient navigation services are demonstrating success in improving cancer detection, treatment and care and in reducing cancer health disparities. To advance progress in developing patient navigation programs, extensive descriptions of each component of the program must be made available to researchers and health service providers.

Objective: To describe the components of a patient navigation program designed to improve cancer screening based on informed decision-making on cancer screening and cancer treatment services among predominantly Black older adults in Baltimore City.

Methods: A community-academic participatory approach was used to develop a patient navigation program in Baltimore, Maryland. The components of the patient navigation system included the development of a community academic (advisory) committee (CAC); recruitment and selection of community health workers (CHWs)/navigators and supervisory staff; initial training and continuing education of the CHWs/navigators; and evaluation of CHWs/navigators. The study was approved by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board.

Conclusions: The incorporation of community-based participatory research (CPBR) principles into each facet of this patient navigation program facilitated the attainment of the intervention’s objectives. This patient navigation program successfully delivered cancer navigation services to 1302 urban Black older adults. Appropriately recruited, selected and trained CHWs monitored by an experienced supervisor and investigators are the key elements in a patient navigation program. This model has the potential to be adapted by research and health service providers.