Are Gay People Excluded From Clinical Trials?

Findings show studies on cancer, depression and others often exclude gay people.

ByABC News
March 17, 2010, 6:42 PM

March 18, 2010— -- Concerns about gay discrimination expanded from matrimony or the military to a new corner of society this week: clinical trials for medical treatment.

Experts at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia worry that doctors may needlessly exclude gay men and lesbians from clinical trials that investigate a range of topics from cancer to diabetes and depression.

A study of 243 clinical trials related to couples and sexual function after various medical treatments showed that 37 trials explicitly excluded people in same-sex relationships, according to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday.

"The National Institutes of Health guidelines really require scientists to have sound scientific reasoning for why they need to restrict the study to one ethnic group or sex," said Brian L. Egleston, lead author on the paper and an assistant research professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "But there's not this same level of oversight when it comes to gay and lesbian patients."

Doctors wanting to test a new drug or treatment often use age, behavior, disease or sex to narrow down which people can participate in clinical trials. It's a crucial step to make sure the drug is tested only on those who could benefit and that outside diseases or behaviors don't complicate the experiment.

"It's not unusual in studies to decide who your target population is and exclude people who are not in this target population," said Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health. Cochran was not involved with the study.

"The bigger problem is if everyone just decides they're going to exclude sexual minorities," she said. "Then their health issues are never dealt with."