At any given time, thousands of clinical trials are underway to advance medicine. While mistrust and skepticism about participation in medical research have historical roots among African Americans, participation by multiple racial and ethnic groups is the way to determine with greater accuracy the effectiveness of new medications for those same groups. Participation in medical research can extend and save lives.
Such is the case for St. Louisan Sheila McGlown, who has been living for several years with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. It is estimated that 154,000 women in the U.S. have metastatic breast cancer, characterized by its spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Breast cancer had already spread to McGlown’s liver and ribs when she was diagnosed in 2009. She has undergone surgery and chemotherapy in the 10 years since and fought against four progressions of the disease.
“I was talking to my doctor and he said, ‘Well, I can put you on this chemo or that chemo or you can participate in a clinical trial,’” McGlown said. “I said, ‘Let’s go with the clinical trial,’ and she said, ‘Not many African-American women participate in clinical trials.’”
McGlown said the clinical trial at Siteman Cancer Center she has participated in for almost a year and a half is making a difference in treatment.
“I’ve been in a clinical trial now for 16 months, and it’s working,” McGlown said. “They haven’t found any new spots or anything. It’s still stable, and that’s a good thing.”
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women of any race or ethnicity.
Susan G. Komen data estimates nearly 34,000 Black/African American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Additionally, diagnosis occurs at a younger age and can be at a more advanced stage, with lower survival rates.
McGlown served 25 years on active duty in the U.S. military and was stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois when she found out she had breast cancer.
“I had to retire once I found out my diagnosis and, since then, I’ve been an advocate for [improving] racial disparities, especially in the St. Louis community and in the East St. Louis community,” McGlown said.
McGlown said when she goes out to talk about clinical trials, she remains mindful of history.
“You’re reading about the Tuskegee Airmen project, where they gave men syphilis, or you read about Henrietta Lacks, where they took her cells and they are still using her cells. It’s a mistrust of the medical system as to why African-American women don’t want to participate in clinical trials,” McGlown said.
“I tell them all the time, once we get out and start educating women, that there are so many laws now that hopefully, prayerfully, that will be prevented – and that we need to participate in clinical trials.”
For more information, visit clinicaltrials.gov.