When We Tri(al)
What is a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are research studies in which people volunteer to try new therapies and interventions (under careful supervision) in order to help doctors identify the best treatment plans with the fewest side effects. These studies help improve the overall standard of care (the treatment regimen that most physicians and experts widely agree is the most effective and appropriate for a specific subtype and stage of breast cancer). Clinical trials are an important step in discovering new treatments for breast cancer and other diseases as well as new ways to detect, diagnose, and reduce the risk of disease.
On average, a new medicine to treat breast cancer has been studied for at least 6 years (and sometimes many more) before a clinical trial on it is started. Clinical trials show researchers what does and doesn’t work in people. Clinical trials also help researchers and doctors decide if the side effects of a new treatment are acceptable when weighed against the benefits offered by the new treatment. Because clinical trials are required for FDA approval, every medication–even Tylenol, Benadryl, Aspirin, Tums, etc.--has gone through a clinical trial.
In addition to exploring new medications, clinical trials also increase our understanding of all the factors that can influence breast cancer diagnosis and survival: diet, exercise, environmental factors, genetics, stress, and many more.
To learn more about the specifics of clinical trials, visit Breastcancer.org.
Know the Facts
Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Know the facts. Change the numbers.
Why should Black women diagnosed with breast cancer consider participating in clinical trials?
When we tri(al), we set a new standard of care.
Black Breast Cancer (n.)— the constellation of exposures, experiences, and lack of science for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer that causes Black women to face disproportionately worse breast cancer outcomes.
  • Black women are 41% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, with Black breast cancer patients experiencing the lowest 5-year survival rate of any race or ethnicity. Overall 5-year relative survival rates are 81% for Black women vs 91% for white women. Learn more.
  • Black women under 35 get breast cancer at twice the rate and die at three times the rate. Learn more.
  • A 2021 study published in Cancer Medicine found that Black women have a nearly three-fold increased risk of Triple Negative Breast Cancer–an aggressive subtype of breast cancer. Learn more.
Despite these disturbing statistics, Black women are largely excluded from trials that study breast cancer drugs and treatments. With low participation rates in clinical trials, Black women miss access to newly emerging and often life-extending treatments not otherwise available. But more than that, clinical trials are used to answer major questions: Does the new treatment or procedure work? Is what's being tested better than what's being used now? Does it cause more or fewer side effects?
The majority of breast cancer clinical trial participants are white women, which means that these fundamental questions aren’t being answered for Black women’s bodies. As documented by JCO Precision Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and many others, Black women experience many cancer drug side effects differently, so what other aspects of treatment are not the same for Black breast cancer patients?
Trial data, resulting treatment protocols, and product development don’t account for the many factors of Black Breast Cancer. We will not be able to change the devastating Black Breast Cancer mortality numbers unless we understand the physiology of Black women. We cannot do that until we have more Black women participating in clinical research.
To learn more about Black Breast Cancer and clinical trials, visit TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance.
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Research is now designed to protect patients. The National Research Act was signed into law in 1974, which created the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. As a result, all clinical trials require participants to give informed consent. During the process of informed consent, the clinical trial research team must clearly explain how the trial will work, the trial’s purpose, and its risks and benefits. Only then can you agree to enroll in the trial. The purpose of the informed consent process is to help protect participants and make sure they have a full understanding of the trial and their rights before they decide to enroll.

Standard of care is the treatment regimen that most physicians and experts widely agree is the most effective and appropriate for a specific subtype and stage of breast cancer. During a clinical trial, you will always receive standard of care and/or the new drug. If at any point during the trial, the new drug isn’t working effectively for you, they will change your treatment to standard of care. Because the doctors and researchers are invested in finding the best treatment for patients, they pay incredibly close attention to everything that is happening to a trial participant. Clinical trial participants receive closer attention as well as more frequent scans and testing throughout their treatment.
You can consider a clinical trial any time you are making a breast cancer treatment decision. The truth is, there are opportunities for people with all stages and types of breast cancer—from those newly diagnosed to those in treatment to those in remission—to participate in clinical trials. Clinical trials are not a last resort. In fact, many clinical trials focus on early-stage breast cancer. Know your options!

Clinical trials can look at all different things, from drug-based treatments to the impact of stress to sleep patterns. While most people think of chemotherapy and other drugs when they think of clinical trials, clinical trials actually investigate quality of life and lifestyle, too.
Yes! Clinical trials are voluntary and you can choose to leave for any reason, at any time.
Clinical trials shouldn’t cost you anything–there are many trials that take on all of the expenses of their participants. If you do find a trial that you think would benefit you, but it has out-of-pocket expenses (gas, travel, hotel, meals, etc.), please explore the resources at resources or reach out to us at [email protected].
Clinical trials should be a treatment option at every stage of breast cancer, not just a last resort. Ask your doctor about clinical trials early and often.

“Everybody should be asking,” advises Dr. Sara Horton, breast oncologist at Howard University Hospital. “If you’re unfortunate enough to get a cancer diagnosis, you need to ask your oncologist about clinical trials because unfortunately not all of them are going to present the option. Not every practice has access to clinical trials and not everyone needs a clinical trial, but I always say ask. Do you think I’m appropriate for a clinical trial?”