COLUMBUS, Ohio – Few African Americans and other minorities participate in the clinical trials that allow medical researchers to test the safety and efficacy of new cancer-fighting drugs, a fact that troubles Dr. William J. Hicks.
“Clinical trials are vitally important for the advancement of medicine, particularly the treatment of cancer,” said Hicks, who is an oncologist and co-director of the diversity enhancement program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
“Our cultures are so complex that we can’t make assumptions for one culture and apply them to another culture,” Hicks said. “That’s why it is so important for African Americans and other minorities of all ages to participate in clinical trials to make sure we know how they all will respond to treatment.”
The diversity enhancement program at the OSUCCC – James, which is supported in part through a $1.8-million grant from the National Cancer Institute, focuses on educating minorities about cancer, and encouraging them to enroll in clinical trials designed to test the safety and efficacy of novel therapies. Hicks, who is a national leader in promoting diversity enhancement, hosts “It’s All About Health,” a twice-monthly radio call-in show developed to discuss topics related to cancer, including screening, treatment options and clinical trials. He also visits churches and other community venues, where he shows a brief video in which several African Americans tell why they chose to participate in clinical trials.
“We want to help people understand clinical trials and their crucial role in improving cancer treatment,” Hicks said. “Our overall goal is to decrease the disparity of cancer incidence and mortality experienced by the minority community.”
OSUCCC – James is one of just six cancer centers nationwide tapped by the NCI to use grant funding to study ways to overcome barriers to early clinical trials. As part of the project, researchers are developing ways to quickly and efficiently determine which patients are eligible for enrollment in clinical trials.
Minorities often are underrepresented in clinical trials, despite the fact that many ethnic minorities develop cancer more frequently than the majority of the U.S. white population. African-American males, for example, develop cancer 15 percent more frequently than white males, according to the NCI. In addition, the American Cancer Society reports that African American men are 20 percent more likely to develop cancer and 40 percent more likely to die of the disease than white men.
Some minority patients are reluctant to volunteer for clinical trials because they don’t trust medical research, while others have poor access to quality health care or lack knowledge about clinical trials, Hicks said.
“We must reach out and offer more opportunities for all people to be protected against the scourge of cancer,” Hicks said. “The lack of minorities in clinical trials affects the search for new treatments. We must have everyone included to know how the treatment will affect others. The only way scientists can make conclusions is to have this data.” # # #
Medical Center Communications