Mobile technology and cancer screening: Lessons from rural India

Shreya Bhatt, Rita Isaac, Madelon Finkel, Jay Evans, Liz Grant, Biswajit Paul, David Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Rates of cervical and oral cancer in India are unacceptably high. Survival from these cancers is poor, largely due to late presentation and a lack of early diagnosis and screening programmes. Mobile Health ('mHealth') shows promise as a means of supporting screening activity, particularly in rural and remote communities where the required information infrastructure is lacking.

Methods: We developed a mHealth prototype and ran training sessions in its use. We then implemented our mHealth-supported screening intervention in 3 sites serving poor, low-health-literacy communities: RUHSA (where cervical screening programmes were already established), Mungeli (Chhattisgarh) and Padhar (Madhya Pradesh). Screening was delivered by community health workers (CHWs - 10 from RUHSA, 8 from Mungeli and 7 from Padhar), supported by nurses (2 in Mungeli and Padhar, 5 in RUHSA): cervical screening was by VIA; oral cancer screening was by mouth inspection with illumination. Our evaluation comprised an analysis of uptake in response to screening and follow-up invitations, complemented by qualitative data from 8 key informant interviews and 2 focus groups.

Results: 8686 people were screened through the mHealth intervention - the majority (98%) for oral cancer. Positivity rates were 28% for cervical screening (of whom 37% attended for follow-up) and 5% for oral cancer screening (of whom 31% attended for follow-up). The mHealth prototype was very acceptable to CHWs, who felt it made the task of screening more reliable. A number of barriers to screening and follow-up in test-positive individuals were identified. Use of the mHealth prototype has had a positive effect on the social standing of the CHWs delivering the interventions.

Conclusions: mHealth approaches can support cancer screening in poor rural communities with low levels of health literacy. However, they are not sufficient to overcome the range of social, cultural and financial barriers to screening and follow-up. Approaches which combine mHealth with extensive community education, tailored to levels of health literacy in the target population, and well-defined diagnostic and treatment pathways are the most likely to achieve a good response in these communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)020421
JournalJournal of Global Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2018


  • Early Detection of Cancer/statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Literacy/statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • India/epidemiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms/epidemiology
  • Poverty
  • Rural Population/statistics & numerical data
  • Telemedicine
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms/epidemiology


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