SEATTLE, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The lower income a cancer patient lives on, the lower the chance that person will take part in a clinical trial, which researchers say in a new study is bad both for the accuracy of clinical trials and for individual patients who can benefit from experimental treatments.
The reason low-income patients don't take part has nothing to do with the studies, but the fact that transportation, childcare and healthcare costs outside the study price them out of the ability to participate.
Between 3 and 5 percent of all adult cancer patients in the United States take part in clinical trials, according to researchers.
"The research benefits because you can do trials more quickly and they would be more representative," said Dr. Joseph Unger, a biostatistician and health services researcher in Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in a press release. "For patients, clinical trials are a vital resource, so there shouldn't be a disparity depending on your income."
Using data from a survey of 1,262 breast, lung and colorectal cancer patients, researchers found that patients who live on less than $50,000 per year were 32 percent less likely to participate in a clinical trial.
About 17 percent of patients who make more than $50,000 per year participate in a clinical trial. For patients making between $20,000 and $49,999, 13 percent take part in trials, and 11 percent of patients making less than $20,000 per year participate in a trial.
Sponsors of clinical trials tend to cover the costs directly related to a study, however patients or their insurance companies have to cover any additional costs needed during the trial. Many insurance companies and Medicare cover costs that would exist if patients were using standard treatment, rather than an experimental one, because they are required to by the Affordable Care Act.
Medicaid patients don't benefit from the requirement because the program is administered by individual states, so the federal law applies differently.
Dr. Beti Thompson, who works at in the Health Disparities Research Center at Fred Hutchinson, the fact that many lower-income people never even hear about the clinical trials because of the places they receive healthcare.
"We need to do a lot more at the community level to educate people about the importance of clinical trials and to let them know that once they go through traditional treatments, there may be other options for them," Thompson said. "We put things on the Internet and have elaborate documents about how clinical trials work, but we really need to go to where the people are and talk to them."
The study is published in JAMA Oncology.