Social Service Barriers Delay Care Among Women with Abnormal Cancer Screening

Sarah W. Primeau, Karen M. Freund, Ambili Ramachandran, Sharon M. Bak, Timothy Heeren, Clara A. Chen, Samantha Morton, Tracy A. Battaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Inequity in cancer outcomes for minorities and vulnerable populations has been linked to delays in cancer care that arise from barriers to accessing care. Social service barriers represent those obstacles related to meeting life’s most basic needs, like housing and income, which are often supported by public policy, regulation and services. OBJECTIVE: To examine the association between social service barriers and timely diagnostic resolution after a cancer screening abnormality. DESIGN: Secondary analysis of the intervention arm of Boston Patient Navigation Research Program (2007–2008) conducted across six urban community health centers. Subjects with no barriers, other barriers, and social service barriers were compared on their time to diagnostic resolution. SUBJECTS: Women ≥ 18 years of age with a breast or cervical cancer screening abnormality. MAIN MEASURES: Social service barriers included: income supports, housing and utilities, education and employment, and personal/family stability and safety. Time to event analyses compared across five groups: those with no barriers, one barrier (other), one barrier (social service), two or more barriers (all other), and two or more barriers (at least one social service). KEY RESULTS: 1,481 navigated women; 31 % Hispanic, 27 % Black, 32 % White; 37 % non-English speakers and 28 % had private health insurance. Eighty-eight women (6 %) had social service barriers. Compared to those without social service barriers, those with were more likely to be Hispanic, younger, have public/no health insurance, and have multiple barriers. Those with two or more barriers (at least one social service barrier), had the longest time to resolution compared to the other four groups (aHR resolution < 60 days = 0.27, ≥ 60 days = 0.37). CONCLUSION: Vulnerable women with multiple barriers, when at least one is a social service barrier, have delays in care despite navigation. The impact of patient navigation may never be fully realized if social service barriers persist without being identified or addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-175
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • access to care
  • cancer
  • disparities
  • vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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