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The Clinical Trial Disparity: Why So Few Black Patients Enroll

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September 1, 2020

Outreach programs could attract more minorities to studies

  • People of color make up only a small percentage of participants in cancer clinical trials
  • Mistrust about clinical trials in the Black community dates back to the Tuskegee syphilis trials
  • Community outreach programs, patient advocates, and clinical research specialists of the same race could help improve diversity
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Clinical trials can’t proceed without willing participants, yet fewer than 1 in 20 cancer patients take part in clinical trials. For minorities, the numbers are even more stark. In trials for 24 of the 31 cancer drugs approved since 2015, fewer than 5% of participants were Black. As a result of this disparity, Black patients aren’t getting access to experimental, and possibly lifesaving new therapies.

The lack of participation stems, at least in part, from mistrust, Dr. Ted Teknos, a head and neck cancer surgeon at University Hospitals in Cleveland, tells SurvivorNet Connect. “There’s a lot of mistrust, understandably so, in the African-American community about clinical trials, dating back to the Tuskegee trials in the 50s, and a lot of mistrust about healthcare organizations in general.”

Hearing from trusted individuals is one way to bridge the gap, he says. He and his colleagues host outreach sessions to explain the benefits of clinical trials in places where people of color feel comfortable, such as churches and community centers. He adds that individuals from minority groups are more likely to enroll in clinical trials when the message about benefits and risks is delivered by Black physicians, advanced practice providers, and clinical research specialists.