How Penn Medicine's cancer center boosted Black patients' clinical trial participation

A community outreach engagement program at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia increased the percentage of Black patients in clinical trials from 12 to 24 percent, the health system said May 19. 

The five-year effort, which began in 2014, reached more than 10,000 people. It involved culturally tailored marketing strategies, partnerships with faith-based organizations in Black communities to host educational events, and pilot programs with ridesharing companies to address transportation barriers, among other initiatives. 

Prior to the program, just 11.1 percent of patients at Abramson Cancer Center were Black, despite Black residents making up 19 percent of the population in the 12-county catchment area surrounding the city, as well as 16.5 percent of all cancer cases in the area. That increased to 16.2 percent by 2018, according to a news release. 

At the start of the program, the percentages of Black participants accrued into treatment, non therapeutic interventional, and non-interventional trials at the trials were 12.2 percent, 8.3 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively. By 2018, those numbers jumped to 23.9 percent, 33.1 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively. 

"Aligning the number of Black patients with cancer we care for with the number enrolled in our trials is how we can bring more equitable care to the community, close gaps in disparities, and sustain trust," said Robert Vonderheide, MD, director of the ACC and vice president for cancer programs at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "There's more work to be done to improve access and inclusion of minority groups, and the impact of this outreach and engagement effort is an important step forward." 

The findings are part of research led by Dr. Vonderheide set to be presented June 5 at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology. 

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