Black Wo(Men) Speak Symposium Illuminates Need for Greater Diversity in Clinical Trials

My biggest takeaway was that when one centers Black women and the disparities in treatment and access, everyone benefits.
~ Black Wo(Men) Speak Attendee

On December 5, 2022, the metastatic breast cancer community showed its collective commitment to improving the representation of Black people in cancer research by gathering at Black Wo(Men) Speak, a research symposium held in conjunction with the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Hosted by the MBC Alliance—in partnership with Carrie’s TOUCH; For the Breast of Us; TOUCH, the Black Breast Cancer Alliance; and The Missing Pink Breast Cancer Alliance—the symposium shined a light on the urgent need for greater diversity in clinical trials by presenting data gathered in four recent surveys conducted by the organizations.

The event was sparked by the MBC Alliance’s BECOME (Black Experience of Clinical Trials and Opportunities for Meaningful Engagement) research project which was led by patient advocate Stephanie Walker. A survey conducted through the project found that 8 out of 10 Black women living with MBC would consider participation in clinical trials; yet only 36% of these respondents had received the information they needed to inform such a decision.

“Our aim today is clear,” said emcee and moderator Dr. Monique Gary, a breast surgical oncologist and Medical Director of the cancer program at Grand View Health/Penn Cancer Network.” It is to inspire greater trust in the healthcare system, and to provide strategies to ensure access to clinical trials for Black women and Black men.”

The event drew 117 in-person attendees and 115 virtual participants, including doctors, researchers, advocates, patients, and professionals from the pharmaceutical and medical communities. Through the symposium, they explored steps to dismantle barriers to clinical trial participation and strategies to ensure access to clinical trials.

The overarching goal was to empower patient advocates and the medical community with the information to work collectively toward needed changes in cancer care for Black women and men.

“There needs to be a building of trustworthiness,” stated keynote presenter Dr. Lola Fayanju, Chief of the Division of Breast Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “That is not the patients’ job; it’s our job. We need to earn their trust.”

The need is critical, with Black women with breast cancer experiencing a mortality rate that is 40% higher than white women (non-Hispanic populations). And, while clinical trials help improve outcomes and survival, Black people represent only 3% to 6% of patients in all cancer clinical trials.

“There’s no reason for Black women to continue to die at these disproportionately higher rates,” said presenter Rev. Dr. Tammie Denyse, an 18-year breast cancer survivor who is Co-Founder & President of Carrie’s TOUCH. “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Learn more about the event & explore a playlist of symposium videos.