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Richard Schulick, MD, MBA | University of Colorado Cancer Center

Director's Message: Offering Everyone Access to Clinical Trials

The CU Cancer Center makes sure that underrepresented groups have access to clinical trials for all cancers.

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Written by Cancer Center on May 10, 2024

In all medical research, but particularly in cancer research, clinical trials save lives. They test the great new discoveries that can combat cancer, and the only way we're going to get better at preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer is to put our best drugs and techniques forward and test them.

Clinical trials are very important for patients at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, because they offer access to very effective treatments and methodologies years before they’re approved for widespread use in the United States. And our patients who take part in clinical trials are heroes. Many times in clinical trials, the actual benefit is unknown. That's why the drug is in a clinical trial. But these patients have decided to help future cancer patients by helping researchers understand the best pathways of preventing, detecting, or treating cancer.

Historically, however, not everyone has had equal access to clinical trials. As explained in the article "Diversity Matters" from the Spring 2024 issue of the CU Cancer Center’s C3 magazine, “the shortage is even more pronounced when it comes to various segments of society — groups that are underrepresented in cancer clinical trials when compared to the rate of cancer among those groups. Those groups are defined in part by their racial and ethnic heritage, but also by their sex and orientation, age, their economic status, and even where they live, among other factors.”

At the CU Cancer Center, we have gone out of our way to make sure that underrepresented groups have access to our cutting-edge clinical trials for all cancers.

We are tasked with overseeing the cancer care of our catchment area, which is the state of Colorado, and we need to make sure we have strong representation of all the people in Colorado — good representation of men and women, of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, of people of differing sexual orientations, and of people from both urban and rural environments, as well as all economic statuses.

In Colorado, for example, 22% of the population is Latinx. But as we began looking through our clinical trials, we found that we didn’t have a proportional number of Latinx people enrolled. So we started bilingual clinics, and we began translating our materials into Spanish and making sure they were culturally appropriate. We also reached out to our community hospital partners, who have a higher proportion of Latinx patients, to make our clinical trials accessible to them and help them navigate through our clinical trials process.

All of those efforts helped to increase the number of Latinx people in our clinical trials, and we anticipate similar efforts to reach other populations that are currently underrepresented in our clinical trials.

Our goal at the CU Cancer Center is to provide the best care and have the best science and the best clinical trials, and part of that is making sure we enroll a representative cross-section of the community that we’re caring for. Our Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access and our Office of Community Outreach and Engagement work hard to collaborate with our partners to make sure our science and our clinical trials accurately represent the population of Colorado and the nation.

Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, is director of the CU Cancer Center.