The Importance of Diversity on Clinical Trials

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As director of the Minority and Women Clinical Trials Recruitment Program at M. D. Anderson, I often get asked, "What are clinical trials and why do we need to make sure that participants on a trial are diverse?"

Nguyen.jpgHere is the 30-second answer for netsurfers with quick-clicking fingers. 

Clinical trials are research studies with human volunteers to see how new medicines or treatments work in people. Through clinical trials, researchers find new and better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, control and treat illness and improve health.

Carefully conducted clinical trials are the safest and fastest way to find treatments that work. If you take aspirin to reduce your risk of a heart attack, or have ever received a flu or tetanus shot, or been immunized against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, you've benefited from clinical trials.

More than 60% of U.S. children with cancer participate in clinical trials. Consequently, there have been enormous improvements in treating childhood cancers. In the mid-1970s, about 55% of children with cancer were alive five years after diagnosis. In 2000, this figure had increased to 70%. In contrast, an estimated 3% to 5% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, far fewer than is needed to answer the most critical questions about cancer quickly (Source: National Cancer Institute).

The effective cancer treatments of today are the result of progress made and knowledge learned from past clinical trials. Accordingly, people treated for cancer today are living longer. The more people that participate in clinical trials, the faster critical research questions can be answered.

Additionally, the more diverse the participant pool, the more confidence we have of the results and their benefits for all people. For many reasons, certain groups participate less on clinical trials than others. Groups often under-represented on cancer clinical trials include racial and ethnic minorities and women.

At M. D. Anderson, ensuring that patients are aware of all treatment options available to them is a critical goal. We regularly assess the participation of diverse patients in clinical trials, and partner with the community and researchers to find innovative ways to reduce barriers to clinical trial participation.

More about how we work with communities in future posts.

Click here for more information on clinical trials.

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