How the Absence of Black Women in Clinical Trials Impacts the Black Breast Cancer Mortality Rate

Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images.

When disparities in regard to breast cancer survival rates among Black women in comparison to their white counterparts are discussed, a contributing factor that is not typically addressed is the absence of Black women in clinical trials. Oftentimes, the default reasons that are given for the alarming death rate include limited access to healthcare and socioeconomic barriers. However, according to TOUCH Black Breast Cancer Alliance founder Ricki Fairley, the elephant in the room is limited participation in clinical trials.

“A lot of those factors are in play, but when you really look at the science, Black women have never participated in clinical research to the extent that the drugs work for our bodies,” Fairley tells EBONY. “We weren’t really included in clinical trials. The average participation of Black women in clinical trials is 3 percent.”

While it’s easy to assume that treatment and breast cancer affects every woman in the same way, Fairley argues that breast cancer attacks Black women differently, which is what inspired the triple-negative breast cancer survivor and thriver to launch the organization.

“I started the foundation because I felt like not enough science was being brought to the table concerning Black women. I started talking about Black breast cancer because Black women have a different disease. The mortality numbers are horrific,” says Fairley. “The drugs that we have don’t work on our bodies.”

Her discovery, paired with her determination to eradicate Black breast cancer before her youngest granddaughter hits puberty, inspired Fairley to partner with breastcancer.org to launch When We Tri(al)—a movement that seeks to educate Black women on the importance of clinical trial participation.

“I wanted to bring more science to the table and conversation to get people to talk about developing the right drugs for us and ultimately eradicate Black breast cancer,” Fairley says. “Black women at least deserve morality rate parity. Right now, we’re dying at a 41 percent higher rate.”

As it stands, Black women who survive breast cancer have a 39 percent higher rate of recurrence, according to the Oncology Times, and a 71 percent greater chance of relative death. Worse Black women under 35 develop breast cancer at twice the rate of white women, which is 5 years earlier than they are advised to undergo their first mammograms.

“I want to make it a Black women’s issue to get people to understand clinical trials before we need one,” expresses Fairley. “We don’t talk about health at the kitchen table. People don’t understand what the science is and how it works.”

Last month, TOUCH BBCA kicked off the When We Tri(al) initiative officially launched during an episode of “The Doctor Is In“—a weekly BlackDoctor.org web series hosted by White House Correspondent April Ryan.

“We’re trying to break down those barriers and restore the trust with the right information,” says Fairley of the initiative. “Doctors are not readily inviting Black women into trials. The purpose of our movement is to arm people with information to understand what a clinical trial is and how it can work for them and their bodies. We really need to advance the science.”

To learn more about When We Tri(al) and the TOUCH Black Breast Cancer Alliance or to learn more about clinical trials, visit touchbbca.org.

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