IU researchers launch nation’s first-of-its-kind breast cancer study

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The CDC says breast cancer is the most common cancer women face, no matter the race or ethnicity.

But race and ethnicity may play a role in how effective chemotherapy is in treating breast cancer, which in turn impacts survival rates.

Indiana University School of Medicine just launched the nation's first clinical trial, EAZ171, to find out why African-American women or women of African ancestry have a higher risk of neuropathy, a side effect of chemo.

In this report in a breast cancer awareness series, FOX 59's Beairshelle Edmé explores out how this research will impact a local patient.

"So I went through the whole thing of, 'Why me?'" questioned Saysha Wright, while wiping away tears.

On June 5, the 32-year-old did a self-breast exam, which was part of her routine. "I found 2 lumps."

A month later IU doctors diagnosed her with stage 2 breast cancer.

"I thought the worst," the mother of two recalled. "I really thought, 'This can't be true, like I can't have breast cancer.'"

A month later, Wright has accepted her diagnosis and is seeking treatment. But her journey back to health has come with challenges, particularly with chemo.

In one tear-filled YouTube confessional, Wright records herself and says viewers think she's strong, "... but this stuff is hard y'all. It's mentally hard, it's physically hard."

Her doctors say Wright could experience a chemotherapy side effect unique to her because she's black.

"It can feel like a burning or a tingling or feel numb," Dr. Bryan Schneider explained.

The physician is describing neuropathy.

"I've had a few of my patients tell me they're afraid of holding their baby because they may drop her," he said. "I've had some fall down the stairs because they can't feel their feet."

Neuropathy is a side effect of chemo, and researchers believe black women have a genetically higher risk of experiencing it.

"We think that is what is leading to the difference in the cure rate," said Schneider, who is leading IU School of Medicine's team on EAZ171.

schneider and iu

Dr. Bryan Schneider shows FOX 59's Beairshelle Edmé the work his team at IU School of Medicine is doing in a new nationwide study. The clinical trial will study why African-American women may have a higher risk to experience a chemotherapy side effect.

Once a patient feels neuropathy, physicians have to lower the chemo dosage.

For 10 years, Dr. Schneider and his team have tried to get answers.

"I think we have known for a long time that African-Americans have had worst outcome and we've shown more side effects. What's really disappointing is that they are very much underrepresented in most clinical trials in the United States," he detailed.

Last month, IU School of Medicine launched the first and only national clinical trial to study this with a focus on black women.

240 black women across the nation will join and Wright is one of them.

"I hope that the research and everything that they're doing helps with the neuropathy, so that I can get the effective chemo that I need, and women going forward can get the effective chemo," she said.

If you would like to learn how to learn more about the study and/or how to join, click here

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