Our knowledge about what breast cancer is, how it works, and treatments for it have come a long way from the first documented cases in 3000BC. At that time there was essentially no understanding about cancer, particularly metastatic types, and the mortality rate for Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) sat solidly at 100% for many years. Since then, we have learned more about breast cancer, risk factors, and genetics. We have refined surgical interventions and medication-based approaches. We are able to prolong life, giving many people diagnosed with MBC more time to spend doing the things that matter most to them.
There is much work to be done. The overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90%, but the average for MBC is only 27%. There is a current trend in oncology toward precision oncology which includes less toxic and less invasive therapies among other things aimed at increasing survival rates and decreasing impacts to a patient’s quality of life. While this news is very exciting for many reasons, it also raises some alarm bells for us. First, we cannot speak about precision oncology without honoring Henrietta Lacks. Cells taken from her tumors have taught researchers an enormous amount, especially when it comes to genetically targeted cancer treatment. And still, she would be twice as likely to die than a white woman with the same cancer if she were diagnosed today. Health care disparities are well documented, especially in terms of cancer diagnosis and care. While Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman, the databases being used to grow the body of research around precision oncology are largely comprised of white donor cells. Because of the lack of sampling from BIPOC donors, researchers aren’t able to identify genetic variants that could impact BIPOC patients as effectively as they can for white patients. Our concern, along with many other patient advocates centered around the lives of BIPOC patients, is that this will widen the disparity gap.
There is much hope to be had. The societal reckoning experienced in 2020 had significant impacts in medicine and research, allowing health equity researchers to take center stage. Patients are also demanding more and the organizations that serve them are taking note. From academic researchers, to pharmaceutical companies, to community-based clinics, we are seeing an increase in requests for support. Specifically, researchers and their organizations are looking for ways to find their gaps, improve their training processes, beef up their best practices, and break down barriers. That’s where Tigerlily Foundation comes in. A colleague said, “Diversity isn’t just one of the things we do, it’s everything we do. It’s who we are.” We know that we are uniquely qualified to step up and serve in this space because this is who we are as a Black, woman led organization with a team made up of professionals with experience in diversity and inclusion, clinical trials, public policy, and patient advocacy. Collectively, we are working to change the systems that provide care while also empowering patients through education and supportive programming. One of our newest programs, Tiger Trials, is the culmination of several years of work behind the scenes within the field of clinical research. We are bringing this to you now in hopes you will be open to receiving it. We know that clinical trials set off alarm bells for many people, and rightfully so, but the same hearts and minds that brought you Tigerlily also built this program. We commit to earning your trust and being completely transparent so that together we can transform the future of clinical trials into one that leads to better treatments for ALL patients. Together, we can change how medicine works. Together, we can create a more equitable future. Will you join us? Follow #TigerTrials on our social media pages and check out our website at www.tigerlilyfoundation.org/programs/clinical-trials.