Ethnic minorities, elderly underrepresented in cancer clinical trials

Researchers blame cultural biases as contributing to ethnic minorities being less likely to enroll in clinical trials.
By Amy Wallace   |   Sept. 25, 2017 at 4:38 PM
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Sept. 25 (UPI) -- A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that ethnic minorities and elderly Americans are underrepresented in clinical trials of cancer.

Researchers analyzed enrollment data from all cancer clinical trials completed in clinicaltrials.gov, the database of publicly and privately supported clinical trials from 2003-2016.

They found that of 55,689 enrollees, 83 percent were white, 6 percent were African-American, 5.3 percent were Asian, 2.6 percent were Hispanic and 2.4 percent were classified as other.

"Clinical trials are crucial in studying the effectiveness of new drugs and ultimately bringing them to the market to benefit patients," Dr. Narjust Duma, a hematology/oncology fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a press release. "However, many clinical trials lack appropriate representation of certain patient populations. As a result, the findings of a clinical trial might not be generalizable to all patients."

Researchers examined historical data from 1996 to 2002 and found that African-American and Hispanic representation has declined since that time period, with African-Americans making up 9.2 percent of patients in clinical trials and Hispanics making up 3.1 percent of clinical trials during that time.

The study, which will be presented this week at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research Conference, also found that patients age 65 and older represented 36 percent of the patients enrolled in clinical trials.

Researchers point to the increasing use of genetic information as the reason the numbers of ethnic minorities and the elderly are so low in clinical trials. Cultural biases are also considered a factor making minorities less likely to enroll in clinical trials.

"This is leading to significant advances; however, it is vastly more expensive to run these trials, often leaving a limited budget to recruit patients or do outreach to the elderly or minorities," Duma said. "Also, this type of testing can only be conducted at the major cancer centers. The midsized, regional hospitals are excluded because they don't have the capacity and, sadly, this leaves us farther away from these populations."

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