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Why is Diversity SO Important in Clinical Trials

Updated: Jun 3

Fifteen years ago, I was hijacked into a world known as the breast cancer sisterhood.  The year-long tornado that interrupted my then peaceful life, can only be described in

the words of the late Queen Elizabeth, my “Annus Horribilis”. According to my oncology team. cancer had been camping as an uninvited guest in my body for approximately ten years, but who knew? 

Shocking?  Sadly. no longer the case. Since then, I have learned so much as a patient advocate. The most disturbing fact is that presently, one in eight women will suffer my fate.  Still the worst is yet to come. Statistics predict unless something changes, in the next decade, it will drop to one in four. Picture a gathering of women meeting for a friendly lunch….one of them at the table will suffer this diagnosis.

However, there is hope.  Our hope lies in current research and increasing progress into finding the causes of this disease. With more effective “individualized oncology” we will be able to identify the tumor’s Achille’s heels.  This cannot be achieved without our help.

I am learning as a patient advocate on a clinical trial for a vaccine to prevent the recurrence of triple negative breast cancer is the challenges of recruiting women of color, and the great need for diversity in clinical trials. Sadly, triple negative breast cancer is the most aggressive form of the disease and the most prevalent form for women of color.  If the vaccine is not tested on this community, it will be a great disservice to these women.

So why is it so difficult to get women of color to participate in clinical trials? Doesn’t it make sense that to cure a disease, we need to test the new treatments on patients that look like you? Breast cancer is a generic term but the disease is so much more complex.  Our trial targets a protein that is highly expressed in triple negative breast cancer, and in particular, in women of color.  Yet, the majority of clinical trial participants continue to be white. 

Unless we solve this disparity. we cannot get the answers needed to serve these women. We need doctors and advocacy groups to encourage women of color to participate in clinical trials.  The cost of participation is usually covered by the trial budget so anyone that qualifies can enroll.  Please encourage the women you love to ask about clinical trials.  You just may save a life!

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