Skip to main content

March 2016 – Description of a clinical breast exam training program administered to laywomen in Malawi. Participants who completed training demonstrated competency in conducting clinical breast exams and delivering breast cancer educational talks.

From Community Laywomen to Breast Health Workers: A Pilot Training Model to Implement Clinical Breast Exam Screening in Malawi.

Gutnik L, Moses A, Stanley C, Tembo T, Lee C, Gopal S.

PLoS One

Full text available at PubMed and PLoS One.



Breast cancer burden is high in low-income countries. Inadequate early detection contributes to late diagnosis and increased mortality. We describe the training program for Malawi’s first clinical breast exam (CBE) screening effort.


Laywomen were recruited as Breast Health Workers (BHWs) with the help of local staff and breast cancer advocates. The four-week training consisted of lectures, online modules, role-playing, case discussions, CBE using simulators and patients, and practice presentations. Ministry of Health trainers taught health communication, promotion, and education skills. Breast cancer survivors shared their experiences. Clinicians taught breast cancer epidemiology, prevention, detection, and clinical care. Clinicians and research staff taught research ethics, informed consent, data collection, and professionalism. Breast cancer knowledge was measured using pre- and post-training surveys. Concordance between BHW and clinician CBE was assessed. Breast cancer talks by BHW were evaluated on a 5-point scale in 22 areas by 3 judges.


We interviewed 12 women, and 4 were selected as BHWs including 1 breast cancer survivor. Training was dynamic with modification based on trainee response and progress. A higher-than-anticipated level of comprehension and interest led to inclusion of additional topics like breast reconstruction. Pre-training knowledge increased from 49% to 91% correct (p<0.0001). Clinician and BHW CBE had 88% concordance (kappa 0.43). The mean rating of BHW educational talks was 4.4 (standard deviation 0.7).


Malawian laywomen successfully completed training and demonstrated competency to conduct CBE and deliver breast cancer educational talks. Knowledge increased after training, and concordance was high between BHW and clinician CBE.