Strategies for increasing the participation of women in community breast cancer screening

Screening aims to identify people who might have a disease, by testing a group of people for signs of disease. Breast cancer screening with mammography has focused on women aged 50 to 69 years. The review of trials found that a letter of invitation, mailed educational material, a phone call and some combined actions (such as a letter of invitation plus a phone call and training activities plus reminders) all seem to increase numbers of women participating. However it is not known which of these work better. Other interventions (such as a home visit) have not been proven to work.

Authors' conclusions: 

Most active recruitment strategies for breast cancer screening programs examined in this review were more effective than no intervention. Combinations of effective interventions can have an important effect. Some costly strategies, as a home visit and a letter of invitation to multiple screening examinations plus educational material, were not effective. Further reviews comparing the effective interventions and studies that include cost-effectiveness, women's satisfaction and equity issues are needed.

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Strategies for reducing breast cancer mortality in western countries have focused on screening, at least for women aged 50 to 69 years. One of the requirements of any community screening program is to achieve a high participation rate, which is related to methods of invitation. Therefore, it was decided to systematically review the scientific evidence on the different strategies aimed at improving women's participation in breast cancer screening programs and activities.


To assess the effectiveness of different strategies for increasing the participation rate of women invited to community (population-based) breast cancer screening activities or mammography programs.

Search strategy: 

MEDLINE (1966-2000), CENTRAL (2000), and EMBASE (1998-1999) searches for 1966 to 1999 were supplemented by reports and letters to the European Screening Breast Cancer Programs (Euref Network).

Selection criteria: 

Both published and unpublished trials were eligible for inclusion, provided the women had been invited to a community breast screening activity or program and had been randomised to an intervention group or a control group with no active intervention.

Data collection and analysis: 

We identified 151 articles, which were reviewed independently by two people. The discrepancies were resolved by a third reviewer in order to reach consensus. Thirty-four studies were excluded because they lacked a control group; 58 of the other 117 articles were considered as opportunistic and not community-based; 59 articles, which reported 70 community-based randomised controlled trials or clinical controlled trials, were accepted. In 24 of these, the control group had not been exposed to any active intervention, but 8 of the 24 had to be excluded because the denominator for estimating attendance was unknown. At the end, 16 studies constituted the material for this review, although two studies were further excluded because their groups were not comparable at baseline. Data from all but one study were based on or converted to an intention-to-treat analysis. Attendance in response to the mammogram invitation was the main outcome measure.

Main results: 

The evidence favoured five active strategies for inviting women into community breast cancer screening services: letter of invitation (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.43 to 1.92), mailed educational material (Odds Ratio(OR) 2.81, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.96 to 4.02), letter of invitation plus phone call (OR 2.53, 95% CI 2.02 to 3.18), phone call (OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.70 to 2.23), and training activities plus direct reminders for the women (OR 2.46, 95% CI 1.72 to 3.50). Home visits did not prove to be effective (OR 1.06, 95 % CI 0.80 to 1.40) and letters of invitation to multiple examinations plus educational material favoured the control group (OR 0.62, 95 % CI 0.32 to 1.20).

Health topics: