The best way to learn about new ways to treat cancer, different conditions, or diseases is through clinical trials. The best clinical trials include all types of people, “If we can have representation in clinical trials that is the same as our society, then we’ll be able to discover and deploy therapies that are impactful for our entire society, not just segments of it,” explained CU Medicine provider, Dr. Antonio Jimeno.
Jimeno is co-director of the CU Developmental Therapeutics Program and is working on a study to investigate disparities in clinical trials. The research project is a collaboration between the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Developmental Therapeutics (DT) Program and the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement (COE).
The office of COE is led by Dr. Evelinn Borrayo who works very closely with the leadership and investigators at the CU Cancer Center in addressing the needs of underrepresented minorities and Colorado patients with difficulties in accessing care, “We have very convincing data that patients who are from underrepresented minorities, or that have barriers with their language, have difficulty accessing the full spectrum of cancer care. In particular the area of clinical trials,” she said.
“In understanding those barriers we realized that we needed to do a better job adjusting to our patient’s needs and therefore we initiated a pilot program with the support of both the CU Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute,” added Jimeno
The project started with a focus on providing clinical trials for those with head and neck cancer (HNC). Generally, a very aggressive disease, HNC requires expert care that is not widely available in community cancer clinics. Additionally, patients that are not well-represented in clinical studies, especially Hispanic patients, are less likely to get care from centers that specialize in the disease, such as the CU Cancer Center.
“We have found that historically Hispanic patients have worse HNC outcomes which can at least in part be attributed to decreased access to care at tertiary centers,” explained CU Medicine oncologist Dr. Jessica McDermott, a specialist in HNC and the Principal Investigator of the study. “These patients are also vastly underrepresented in preclinical and clinical research which prevents us from understanding their cancers and getting them access to treatment options.”
While the study started with head and neck cancer Jimeno says they plan to offer all types of clinical trials to underrepresented groups, “With this program, the intent is that the language you speak will not get in the way of you having access to clinical trials."
Increasing diversity in clinical trials is incredibly important to better understand racial and ethnic disease differences. It also helps researchers and physicians better predict treatment responses in underrepresented patients.
There is a benefit to patients as well, those who likely wouldn’t have access to clinical trials, “Many patients come to a point where no other options are available to them. Clinical trials give patients an opportunity to keep on fighting,” Jimeno said, “A win, win, win all around – patients, providers, and our society.”
As part of the project, the team has started a pilot clinic specifically for Hispanic/Spanish-speaking patients called Esperanza en Español. “Esperanza en Español” translates to “Hope in Spanish.”
The clinic just started seeing patients earlier this summer, “This clinic is staffed with Spanish-speaking doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and research coordinators to decrease any language or cultural barriers,” said Jimeno.
If you are a cancer patient in need of a clinical trial or know someone who is, call 720-598-2276 to speak with a patient navigator. Please leave a message if it is the weekend or after hours.
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