Breast Cancer: Underrepresentation in Clinical Trials is Leaving Black Women Behind

In the realm of chronic or severe conditions, clinical trials can be a sign of hope for patients. However, what happens when a certain group or groups are underrepresented in them? This is the case for Black women who are severely underrepresented in these studies.

While Black Americans represent 13% of the total US population, they only make up 5% of clinical trials. Although this may seem innocent at first, it has tremendous implications for Black women patients. Leaving Black women out not only blocks a possibility of treatment, but stunts research into why certain diseases vary in how they affect different populations.

For breast cancer, underrepresentation prevents us from answering the question of why Black women are less likely to to develop the disease but also more likely to die from it. If you are a Black woman living with advanced breast cancer, consider doing your research on available clinical trials and talk to your doctor about exploring them.

While every trial and medical team is different, there are common causes as to why Black women are often left out of clinical trials. The first reason may be the feelings of the patient. A cancer diagnosis can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, fear, and shame.

This can lead to decision paralysis on what the patient should do and what treatments they can seek. While the traditional course of treatment may be well explained, clinical trials may not be fully discussed by your healthcare provider.

Leverage support groups as not only a way to find community, but also a resource to talk to others about their experience with clinical trials.

Ask them what factors they considered and any benefits or risks that were presented to them. Accompany this with your own research in order to be prepared to have a discussion with your doctor and make an informed decision. 

Another barrier is just lack of knowledge and accessibility. A common obstacle of clinical trials is making them accessible to everyone. Trials typically happen during work hours and in hospitals or clinics. This can make it hard for those who are low-income or work full-time as they cannot come in the middle of the day to participate in the trial.

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