Clinical trials are vital in cancer research. Drug development can be a slow process, but the need for better cancer treatments is ongoing. Until there is a cure, trials must continue and new options must continually be explored, with no stone unturned. So why are so many trials lopsided in who they include? In a new study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota it was revealed that 83% of participants in cancer clinical trials are white. Cancer can impact certain ethnic groups in different ways, but these groups are grossly underrepresented in trials. Only 6% of participants in clinical trials are African-American despite the fact that blacks have a higher death rate from cancer, shorter survival rates and make up 12% of the population in the United States. Hispanics made up 5.3% and Asians 2.6% with 2.4% being reported as "Other."
The study analyzed enrollment figures from clinicaltrials.gov, the database of all cancer trials conducted in the US from 2003-2016. The elderly were also not well represented, comprising only 36% of enrolled patients. Cultural bias could be part of the reason, but some of it is budget related as well since the funding to recruit patients is a small part of any trial and outreach to these groups tends to cost more. In addition, trials are conducted at major medical centers and sometimes there are not large populations of these groups nearby.