Researchers are restarting the communications campaign to recruit patients for the National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trial, EAZ171, a unique study looking at Black women with breast cancer. The goal of this study is to help doctors better understand and treat Black breast cancer patients with neuropathy, which is a side effect from chemotherapy.
Study organizers paused advertisements about recruitment back in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have continued to enroll patients during that time. Thirty-nine patients have already joined the nationwide study, but researchers are looking for 241 more to enroll.
“Like many studies taking place all over the world, we are behind where we want to be in terms of enrollment because of the effects of the coronavirus,” said Bryan P. Schneider, MD, who leads EAZ171. "We still hope to engage more Black women as we move forward with this study, so we can determine the best and most effective ways to treat their symptoms."
Schneider is a professor of medicine and medical and molecular genetics and the Vera Bradley Chair of Oncology at IU School of Medicine. He also co-leads the IU Precision Health Initiative triple negative breast cancer research team. Two Indianapolis-based breast cancer advocacy organizations for Black women, R.E.D. (Reaching to End Disparities) Alliance and Pink-4-Ever, are working with Schneider's study team to encourage enrollment.
Both R.E.D. Alliance and Pink-4-Ever established a partnership with Schneider in 2018. Back then, Schneider and his research team realized they were having a hard time reaching Black women to be part of their breast cancer studies. He contacted Lisa Hayes, the executive director of R.E.D. Alliance, and Nadia Miller, the president of Pink-4-Ever, and they have all been working together on ways to bridge the gap between health researchers and Black women.
“Black women need to see themselves reflected in literature and materials about cancer,” said Miller, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “That wasn't happening before. Every pamphlet at every doctor's office showed pictures of white women, or if there was a Black woman, it was the same stock image we've seen for decades. Schneider's team listened to our concerns and has been working with us to implement real changes in the way they reach out to Black women about research.”
As part of the partnership between Schneider, R.E.D. Alliance and Pink-4-Ever, the team produced several videos to debunk myths about breast cancer in the Black community. The team has also been working to develop a library of images of Black women, which can be used to encourage participation in research. Along with those projects, Schneider says it was just as important to include Hayes and Miller in the conversation about how to design and implement EAZ171.
“We have heard people in Indiana and across the country chanting, ‘Black Lives Matter,’” said Schneider, who is also a physician-scientist at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center and Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research located at IU School of Medicine. “That is something our team already knows and has acted upon, not just because it’s in the news, but because it’s the right thing to do. We know that some side effects of breast cancer treatment disproportionately affect Black women, which could be why Black women are also more likely to die from breast cancer. Learning more about how to treat Black women with breast cancer continues to be one of our top priorities. If we want to connect with Black women, it is important to have their input as we develop research strategies. We’re grateful Lisa and Nadia have been able to add their insight as we continue our research.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and racial tensions continue to make headlines, the EAZ171 research team, as well as its partners at R.E.D. Alliance and Pink-4-Ever, are renewing their efforts to recruit study participants. The study is open at 339 centers across the country.
“The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is not only bringing heightened awareness about the need to fight systemic racism,” said Hayes, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “It’s also shedding light on racial inequities in healthcare. By encouraging more Black women to participate clinical studies, we can help researchers discover the treatments, interventions, and prevention strategies that can help Black women in the future and reduce health disparities. This is important work and we are happy to continue to support it.”
The work to develop EAZ171 was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute, a Susan G. Komen for the Cure Promise Award, the Indiana University Grand Challenge Precision Health Initiative, and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.
Clinical trial EAZ171 is being led by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN), which focuses its research on adults who have or are at risk of developing cancer. ECOG-ACRIN receives funding for this trial from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.