“It takes a village”: multilevel approaches to recruit African Americans and their families for genetic research

Heather M. Ochs-Balcom, Lina Jandorf, Youjin Wang, Detric Johnson, Veronica Meadows Ray, Mattye J. Willis, Deborah O. Erwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


One barrier to searching for novel mutations in African American families with breast cancer is the challenge of effectively recruiting families—affected and non-affected relatives—into genetic research studies. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) orientation, we incorporated several evidence-based approaches through an iterative fashion to recruit for a breast cancer genetic epidemiology study in African Americans. Our combined methods allowed us to successfully recruit 341 African American women (247 with breast cancer and 94 relatives without breast cancer) from 127 families. Twenty-nine percent of participants were recruited through National Witness Project (NWP) sites, 11 % came from in-person encounters by NWP members, 34 % from the Love Army of Women, 24 % from previous epidemiologic studies, and 2 % from a support group. In terms of demographics, our varied recruitment methods/sources yielded samples of African American women that differ in terms of several sociodemographic factors such as education, smoking, and BMI, as well as family size. To successfully recruit African American families into epidemiological research, investigators should include community members in the recruitment processes, be flexible in the adoption of multipronged, iterative methods, and provide clear communication strategies about the underlying benefit to potential participants. Our results enhance our understanding of potential benefits and challenges associated with various recruitment methods. We offer a template for the design of future studies and suggest that generalizability may be better achieved by using multipronged approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Community Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2015


  • African American
  • Breast cancer
  • Community-based participatory research (CBPR)
  • Genetic epidemiology


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