Lung Cancer, Clinical Trials and Black Americans

Representation in clinical trials leads to better treatment options
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Dr. Ozuru Ukoha and Pastor Willie J. Collins discuss the importance of clinical trials in the Black community.

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Lung cancer clinical trial participant, Sheena, discusses what she would share with other Black Americans newly diagnosed with lung cancer.

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The Why

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the United States. However, Black men in particular suffer disproportionally from lung cancer. Black men are more likely to get lung cancer and die from it than their white counterparts, despite historically lower smoking rates. 

Black Americans with lung cancer are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and less likely to receive any treatment at all compared to white Americans. This leads to poorer outcomes from lung cancer for Black Americans.

But there is hope. Lung cancer research is moving at a rapid pace. We are learning more about how lung cancer develops, and researchers are working hard to find treatments to help save and extend the lives of lung cancer patients. Sometimes the most appropriate treatment option for a lung cancer patient is a clinical trial. 

Facts about Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are highly monitored research studies. They can look at many things like:

  • how to prevent a disease
  • new ways to detect or diagnose a disease
  • new ways to treat disease. 

When a clinical trial tests a new cancer treatment, patients are never given a placebo or “sugar pill”. Everyone in the study gets the highest standard of treatment, but some people will also get the treatment being studied. One example is when researchers were trying to determine which treatment was more effective in fighting lung cancer: chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy with a new type of treatment called immunotherapy. Some patients in the trial received chemotherapy, while others received chemo plus immunotherapy. All patients received treatment and were monitored by doctors very closely to make sure the new treatment was safe.

Importance of Diversity

It is important to enroll a diverse group of people in clinical trials. That way researchers can learn about how lung cancer and its treatments work in different people. This extends treatment options for not only people enrolled in the trial, but for current and future lung cancer patients.

Unfortunately, clinical trial enrollment in the U.S. may not mimic the makeup of the population. Many types of people are underrepresented in clinical trials, including Black Americans. This is true for several reasons. One of them is the long-standing history of racial bias in healthcare which impacts access to care and trust in providers.

The Importance of Representation in Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

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Participation = Representation

Because a clinical trial might be the best treatment option for someone facing lung cancer, it is important for patients to get all the facts from their doctor before deciding whether to participate. Black patients deserve to benefit from the cutting-edge therapies clinical trials may offer. When more Black people are represented in the study, researchers can learn about the best treatments for Black people. And then, Black patients will get better access to lung cancer treatment that may save or extend their lives. 

That’s why organizations, like the American Lung Association, are committed to raising awareness about the importance of clinical trials.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, talk to your doctor about all the available treatment options, including clinical trials. Learn more at Lung.org/clinicaltrials.

Improving Lung Cancer Clinical Trial Enrollment

Guidance for developing health promotion materials.

Get Involved

Help spread the word about the importance of clinical trials by sharing the videos on this page or one of our additional three PSA videos: Pastor Collins on Clinical Trials, Dr. Ozuru Ukoha on Clinical Trials, and Sheena on Clinical Trials.

Page last updated: March 18, 2022

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