Volunteers who guide low-income and minority cancer patients through cancer treatment, called lay patient navigators (LPN), help them to overcome major obstacles that prevent them from receiving quality care and achieving better outcomes, according to a study presented October 28, 2007, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's 49th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.
Minority and low-income cancer patients continue to receive inferior care in the detection and treatment of cancer, compared to the general population. They are also under-represented in cancer clinical trials, which can potentially save or extend the lives of trial participants, especially those who have few treatment options.
To better understand how LPNs can help these at-risk patients, researchers studied nearly 500 African American and Latino cancer patients with mean family incomes below the poverty level. Almost two-thirds (60 percent) of patients studied accepted help from LPNs to overcome their barriers to getting cancer treatment. Results show that the time it took to reduce these barriers decreased from an average of 42 days to only one day. The study also showed that LPNs offered patients more access to participation in cancer clinical trials.
The study was conducted by the Urban Latino African American Cancer Disparities Project to identify and confront the root causes of treatment disparities in underserved communities and offer better access to clinical trials. It was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Disparity Research Program.
“Our study shows that LPNs can play an important role in reducing the healthcare disparities among minority and low-income patients by being their patient advocates,” said David Khan, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at Centinela Freeman Medical Center in Inglewood, Calif. “These patient navigator programs should become an essential part of our healthcare delivery system to provide these patients with better access to quality care.”
Many patients in the study faced multiple barriers in getting care, which impacted the start and completion of getting cancer treatment. Lack of transportation to healthcare providers was cited as the greatest obstacle in getting quality care, while inadequate finances to pay for medical care was also a significant challenge among these patients.