When Tracey Easton was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2013, she spoke to three medical oncologists to discuss her treatment options. The third oncologist told Easton that since she fit the criteria for a chemotherapy clinical trial, she should consider joining it. “When I first heard clinical trial, I said [to myself] ‘oh no, I don’t want to play around with this,’” Easton said. “[I was] just scared that I wouldn’t get the proper treatment.” The oncologist gave Easton materials about the trial to review, and assured her that regardless of her decision to join it or not, she would receive good care.
Easton says she was surprised to be asked to join a clinical trial–especially so early in her treatment. “Clinical trials are for everyone. Some people think that it’s for women who are out of options. It’s really not true,” said Michelle Esser, Program Manager, Advocacy and Research for Young Survival Coalition. “You can be newly diagnosed with breast cancer and be eligible for a variety of different trials.”
“Younger African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage [breast] cancer than other populations,” said Stephanie Reffrey, Managing Director, Evaluation & Outcomes, Susan G. Komen. “But across all age groups, there’s a disparity. Reffrey says that Komen has roughly 66 clinical trials that have recruited African American women, but more still needs to be done. “It’s challenging in general to get people to participate in clinical trials,” said Reffrey “but especially in the African American population there’s a lot of distrust for very good reasons.”
Certainly there have been great advancements in treatments for breast cancer, but additional research needs to be conducted to determine how effective new drugs are: if survival will be improved, if it will kill the cancer or reduce side effects. Different ethnicities need to be included in trials to see how effective they are across the board. It is imperative that Black women participate in trials, so that treatment is targeted for Black women—as it stands, studies show higher death rates among Black women as compared to White women.
Easton’s initial reservations about participating in a clinical trial echoes what some in the African American community still feel because of cases like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. However, after conducting research, speaking to other health care professionals and conferring with her family, Easton decided to join a chemotherapy clinical trial. Since then, she has participated in three other studies, trials including one that focused on acupuncture as a potential way to alleviate chemotherapy related side effects.
Today, Easton has been deemed “cancer free”. And while she remembers initially feeling devastated by her cancer diagnosis, she knew that she would eventually find ways to give back to others. “Once I got over the shock of even being diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to think of ways to help [other survivors],” she recalls thinking. “This was something terrible and I was scared, but [eventually I thought about] what can I do to contribute to this. How could I help?”
To find out about breast cancer clinical trials go to: www.breastcancertrials.org.
Follow survivor and journalist Khadjiah Carter on Twitter @kcreports