Recently by Lynne Nguyen

How do you discuss a topic that most people hope they never have to think about, and that is about as appealing as a fuzzy brown Chinese gooseberry or a bug-eyed Patagonian toothfish? Like the wildly successful re-marketing of the popular Kiwi fruit (formerly Chinese gooseberry) and the Chilean sea bass (formerly Patagonian toothfish), the key to talking about cancer clinical trials is framing the issue in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the audience.  
gooseberry_fish.jpgIn Texas, 70% of cancer patients are white, even though the white population makes up only 48% of the population of Texas. Hispanics make up 37% of the population, but only 17% of new cancer cases. This surprising statistic is largely due to the fact that while minorities experience higher cancer rates in general, there are fewer minorities currently diagnosed with cancer. Minorities as a group -- in particular Hispanics -- are younger than the white population, and age is a significant risk factor for cancer. The older you are, the more your risk for cancer increases. In Texas, 70% of people older than 70 are white.
To reach healthier, younger people -- in particular Asians and Latinos -- we talk about cancer preparedness as a tool to maintain and protect their health and that of their families.

Residents of the Texas Gulf Coast are very familiar with the concept of hurricane preparedness. Every hurricane season, meteorologists are the most visible people on TV, as they share the latest news about potential hurricanes forming, and communicate messages of awareness, preparation and appropriate action. The annual rituals of stocking batteries and canned foods, filling the tub with water and the tank with gas become matter-of-fact behaviors, and not reasons for fear or distress. Certainly we hope that the hurricane does not head our way, but if it does, we will know what to do and how to do it.

Cancer preparedness takes the same approach. Health education specialists in the Minority & Women Clinical Trials Recruitment Program promote cancer awareness, prevention and screening with Hispanic and Asian audiences. They provide information about treatment options, including clinical trials, as resources that audiences can use to help themselves, their parents and elders decide the most appropriate course of action, for optimal survival and outcome, should the hurricane of cancer enter their lives. 

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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