Breaking Barriers to Make Clinical Trials More Equitable

By Jonesa Rodriguez - October 31, 2023

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, except for skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. It accounts for about 30% of all new female cancers each year.

It is recommended that most women begin their annual mammograms at age 40 or earlier for those who have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Annual screenings is the best way to find breast cancer early, as it can be easier to treat in the early stages.

Allison Edgecomb followed the recommended guidelines and never missed her yearly mammogram, and her results always came back normal.

But in April of 2022, Edgecomb was shocked when she learned that this time her results were showing abnormalities. 

“I received a follow-up call, they told me that they saw something on my mammogram results and that I needed to come in for more testing,” said Edgecomb.

The issue that she faced was that the facility that she went to didn’t have any open appointments until weeks later. Not wanting to wait any longer, she went to Moffitt Cancer Center for a second opinion.

In May 2022, she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer.

After my first treatment, I started to feel the tumor shrink, you could barely feel anything
After my first treatment, I started to feel the tumor shrink, you could barely feel anything.

After hearing the news, Edgecomb says her heart dropped and she started to think the worst.

Following her diagnosis, she was introduced to her care team at Moffitt, they explained to her the next steps and the path ahead. That’s when she was asked about enrolling in a clinical trial.

“I met with Dr. Brian Czerniecki and he explained everything and made sure I understood what was happening,” said Edgecomb. “He asked me if I would be interested in a clinical study. He told me I was a good candidate. But at that moment, I was unsure and told him I would think about it.”

Edgecomb’s hesitancy to enroll in the clinical trial isn’t uncommon. Minority representation in clinical studies is low, largely due to the barriers such as lack of awareness, access and mistrust of the medical system.

Dr. Heather Han, clinical research director in Moffitt’s Department of Breast Oncology, met with Edgecomb to thoroughly explain the treatment within the clinical study and answer any questions. Edgecomb says it was this interaction that changed her mind.

“Dr. Han explained that the treatment would be less invasive and that it wouldn’t be as toxic to my body because I would have less chemotherapy,” she said.. “I wanted to do anything that would lessen the side effects and the harshness on my body, so I thought about it and said OK, I’m going to do it.”

Weeks later she was enrolled in the clinical trial and started the treatment process.

She was given a vaccine for six weeks, followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy in combination with an additional treatment infusion every three weeks.

Allison rings the bell after finishing treatment
Allison rings the bell after finishing treatment.

“After my first treatment, I started to feel the tumor shrink, you could barely feel anything,” said Edgecomb. “It was encouraging to know that this was an experiment, but it was going in the right direction.”

She credits her Moffitt team for her success with the clinical trial, stating she felt more comfortable because they explained every step in the process.

“My team being hands-on made a world of difference. You’re going through the clinical trial process thinking is this going to work or not,” she said. “But the team at Moffitt was really kind and they were there every step of the way. That made all the difference.”

After a successful surgery, Edgecomb is now in remission.

Her advice to anyone hesitant about enrolling in a clinical trial is to be open to hearing the options.

“Listen to what the doctor has to say, listen to the benefits compared to what the traditional standard treatment would be, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, but most importantly be open-minded,” said Edgecomb.

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