Natural helping functions of lay health advisors in breast cancer education

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1995 Jul;35(1):23-9. doi: 10.1007/BF00694741.


The Save Our Sisters Project builds on the roles of 95 "natural helpers" to increase mammography screening among older African American women in a NC county. Natural helpers are lay people to whom others naturally turn for advice, emotional support, and tangible aid. Findings from 14 focus group interviews showed that older women seek out these individuals when they have a female-specific concern, rather than or before seeking help from professionals. The characteristics of natural helpers, revealed in the findings, were used to identify and recruit them to become trained lay health advisors in breast cancer education. Through the SOS Project, natural helpers provide a community-based system of care and social support that complements the more specialized role of health professionals; linking them to women through places and ways that no health professional could begin to acquire. The three roles of lay health advisors are: (1) to assist individuals in their social networks with needs that are difficult for professionals to address; (2) to negotiate with professionals for support for the health system; and (3) to mobilize the resources of associations in their community to sustain support from the health system.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Community Health Services
  • Community Health Workers*
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Mentors / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Public Health