Black Women, Breast Cancer and Clinical Trials

Senior black mum and her middle aged daughter smile to camera embracing, close up

New Brunswick, N.J., October 1, 2022 – For Black women, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and as of 2019 has surpassed lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in this population, according to the American Cancer Society. Black women continue to experience disparities in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, leading to increased mortality of up to 40 percent higher than white women. Researchers are working to improve outcomes for Black women with breast cancer – including through increased participation in clinical trials, which helps find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Coral Omene, MD, PhD, medical oncologist at the Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center and member of the Cancer Health Equity Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer center and only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health; and an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, shares more on the topic.

Diversity matters in breast cancer research. Clinical trials are research studies involving human volunteers to evaluate medications, vaccines, or medical devices for safety and effectiveness and play an essential role in improving patient cancer care and outcomes. Because different populations can respond differently to therapies, clinical trials for breast cancer that include those specific populations are important. Ensuring people from diverse backgrounds participate in clinical trials is key to advancing health equity. 

Black women are significantly underrepresented in clinical trials. The reasons for this are multi-factorial, including social, economic, structural factors, and communication, and access issues. In particular, a lack of awareness and understanding of clinical trials, compounded by distrust of the medical system all pose barriers to Black women participating.

We’re working to connect Black women with clinical trials. Rutgers Cancer Institute has recently been awarded a $50,000 grant from the V Foundation for Cancer Research in partnership with ESPN to increase clinical trial awareness and enrollment of Black women with breast cancer. The efforts in this funded proposal to increase clinical trial participation among Black breast cancer patients will include tailored patient education; advocacy and outreach; patient navigation; and physician engagement and outreach. Read the full news release here.

What can Black women do? Black women should feel empowered to take every opportunity available to them to detect breast cancer early through annual mammograms and encourage their family members and friends to do so as well. Black women diagnosed with breast cancer should ask questions, including discussion of clinical trial options and seek second opinions if necessary, so that they are comfortable with their treatment plans. If there are any issues that may pose a barrier to receive treatment or participate in a clinical trial, they should inform the team and be reassured that the medical team is dedicated to helping them navigate or resolve those barriers, so that they can receive the best treatment option. Importantly, they must be engaged in all the avenues available to help decrease breast cancer recurrence.

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