Participation in cancer clinical trials: race-, sex-, and age-based disparities

JAMA. 2004 Jun 9;291(22):2720-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.291.22.2720.


Context: Despite the importance of diversity of cancer trial participants with regard to race, ethnicity, age, and sex, there is little recent information about the representation of these groups in clinical trials.

Objective: To characterize the representation of racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and women in cancer trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

Design, setting, and patients: Cross-sectional population-based analysis of all participants in therapeutic nonsurgical National Cancer Institute Clinical Trial Cooperative Group breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer clinical trials in 2000 through 2002. In a separate analysis, the ethnic distribution of patients enrolled in 2000 through 2002 was compared with those enrolled in 1996 through 1998, using logistic regression models to estimate the relative risk ratio of enrollment for racial and ethnic minorities to that of white patients during these time periods.

Main outcome measure: Enrollment fraction, defined as the number of trial enrollees divided by the estimated US cancer cases in each race and age subgroup.

Results: Cancer research participation varied significantly across racial/ethnic and age groups. Compared with a 1.8% enrollment fraction among white patients, lower enrollment fractions were noted in Hispanic (1.3%; odds ratio [OR] vs whites, 0.72; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.68-0.77; P<.001) and black (1.3%; OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.68-0.74; P<.001) patients. There was a strong relationship between age and enrollment fraction, with trial participants 30 to 64 years of age representing 3.0% of incident cancer patients in that age group, in comparison to 1.3% of 65- to 74-year-old patients and 0.5% of patients 75 years of age and older. This inverse relationship between age and trial enrollment fraction was consistent across racial and ethnic groups. Although the total number of trial participants increased during our study period, the representation of racial and ethnic minorities decreased. In comparison to whites, after adjusting for age, cancer type, and sex, patients enrolled in 2000 through 2002 were 24% less likely to be black (adjusted relative risk ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.65-0.89; P<.001). Men were more likely than women to enroll in colorectal cancer trials (enrollment fractions: 2.1% vs 1.6%, respectively; OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.24-1.35; P<.001) and lung cancer trials (enrollment fractions: 0.9% vs 0.7%, respectively; OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.16-1.31; P<.001).

Conclusions: Enrollment in cancer trials is low for all patient groups. Racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the elderly were less likely to enroll in cooperative group cancer trials than were whites, men, and younger patients, respectively. The proportion of trial participants who are black has declined in recent years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States
  • White People / statistics & numerical data