Kin Keeper Program Seeks to Prevent Cancer with In-Home Family Approach

Medical experts team with family members to encourage preventive care and screenings despite cultural, language barriers

  • Karen Patricia Williams, Ph.D.
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology
  • College of Human Medicine

Preventing cancer can be a daunting prospect for many people, but can be even more challenging for groups without easy access to cancer prevention information. But Karen Patricia Williams, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at MSU, is using her expertise in community-based participatory research and women's health to help African-American women receive potentially life-saving preventative health care information in the comfort of their own homes and with the support of their families.

Kin Keeper Program Seeks to Prevent Cancer with In-Home Family Approach

Concerned that the burden of breast and cervical cancers fall more heavily on African-American women than on their Caucasian and Asian counterparts, Williams focused on finding a positive and culturally-relevant method to address this challenge. Through her research, Williams found that the strong family bonds that exist among African-American women provide a good framework for information-sharing and encouragement to follow through on having mammograms and other cancer screening procedures. Taking advantage of this strong support system, Williams developed the Kin KeeperSM Cancer Prevention Intervention, a familial approach to cancer prevention and management.

The Kin KeeperSM program, initially funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is a health advocacy model that involves community, family, and health care providers working together in a three-step process. First, a community health worker makes contact with a woman currently receiving care in a public health program. This woman then becomes a kin keeper liaison to additional female family members. Finally, the community health worker meets in a comfortable home setting to lead the kin keeper and her family members through a cancer prevention curriculum and workbook, developed by Williams and a colleague. (For more information, see Williams' article.)

What makes Kin KeeperSM such an effective program is that it breaks down intimidating barriers to preventative health care. By meeting in a comfortable, safe, in-home setting with loved ones and a trusted community health worker, individuals become informed about potentially life-saving procedures in a way that reaches beyond income, education, location, age, race, and even language barriers. Community health workers involved in the program have been enthusiastic about the in-home family approach. "I think the home visit itself was very helpful, because I bet at least 50 percent of these people would never have come to a session if it was outside their homes," said one community health worker.

In her evaluation of the program Williams shows that the model has been both feasible and effective for reaching African-American women. In the first year of the study, participants stuck with the program, increasing their cancer literacy test scores considerably.

Because of the program's success to date, Williams has also translated the curriculum into Spanish and Arabic, bringing this life-saving preventative health care information to other populations who may be struggling with language and cultural barriers.

Williams says that she's inspired by the fact that her research is "making a difference in the lives of everyday women who might otherwise not be able to access vital preventative information on breast and cervical cancer."

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement

Williams, K. P. (2007). Kin Keeper: A family-focused cancer prevention model for African-American women. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 15, 291-305.

Williams. K. P., Mullan, P. B., & Todem, D. (2008). Moving from theory to practice: Implementing the Kin KeeperSM cancer prevention model. Health Education Research Online. Available from: (article search page).

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