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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Community partnerships needed to recruit minority patients to cancer clinical trials

Higher cancer rates among ethnic and racial minority groups cannot be attacked without increasing their representation in clinical trials, community health workers and health care providers heard today.

"The solution is to build community-academic partnerships," Dr. Claudia Baquet, director of the University of Maryland Comprehensive Center for Health Disparities, told about 100 people at a conference at the University of Massachusetts - Boston also sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and community outreach organizations. "Notice I said 'community' first."

About 3 percent to 5 percent of all cancer patients participate in clinical trials that study ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Fewer than 1 percent of African-American patients do.

Historic barriers, including lack of trust or limited access to health care, aren't the only reasons, Baquet said. Patients need to hear from their health care providers that they might have the option of joining the studies, which are typically run by researchers at academic medical centers.

"It's a total myth that underserved communities have no interest in research," she said. "It's just that it has not been presented in a way that they can consider the benefits."

Groups like the Cherishing Our Hearts and Souls Coalition, which works to improve health among African-Americans in Roxbury, is an example of efforts to make research better reflect different populations, she said. The group is one of three pilot programs in the US funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation with the goal of including more minorities in research.

Trust is still an issue, Tarma Johnson, director of clinical health services at Mattapan Community Health Center, said at a separate session for primary care practitioners. She was involved in recruiting patients for a clinical trial about vitamin D led by Boston University School of Medicine researcher Dr. Michael Holick. The patients were interested in what she told them, which could apply to cancer studies, too.

"The information came from the health center, not the hospital, because they trust us," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:37 PM
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