Text messaging interventions on cancer screening rates: A systematic review

Catherine Uy, Jennifer Lopez, Chau Trinh-Shevrin, Simona C. Kwon, Scott E. Sherman, Peter S. Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Despite high-quality evidence demonstrating that screening reduces mortality from breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancers, a substantial portion of the population remains inadequately screened. There is a critical need to identify interventions that increase the uptake and adoption of evidence-based screening guidelines for preventable cancers at the community practice level. Text messaging (short message service, SMS) has been effective in promoting behavioral change in various clinical settings, but the overall impact and reach of text messaging interventions on cancer screening are unknown. Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effect of text messaging interventions on screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancers. Methods: We searched multiple databases for studies published between the years 2000 and 2017, including PubMed, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library, to identify controlled trials that measured the effect of text messaging on screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, or lung cancers. Study quality was evaluated using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Results: Our search yielded 2238 citations, of which 31 underwent full review and 9 met inclusion criteria. Five studies examined screening for breast cancer, one for cervical cancer, and three for colorectal cancer. No studies were found for lung cancer screening. Absolute screening rates for individuals who received text message interventions were 0.6% to 15.0% higher than for controls. Unadjusted relative screening rates for text message recipients were 4% to 63% higher compared with controls. Conclusions: Text messaging interventions appear to moderately increase screening rates for breast and cervical cancer and may have a small effect on colorectal cancer screening. Benefit was observed in various countries, including resource-poor and non-English-speaking populations. Given the paucity of data, additional research is needed to better quantify the effectiveness of this promising intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere296
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Breast neoplasms
  • Colorectal neoplasms
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Lung neoplasms
  • Mhealth
  • Text messaging
  • Uterine cervical neoplasms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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