Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Recruitment Practices and the Politics of Inclusion in Cancer Clinical Trials

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Abstract

Since the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993, researchers with federal funding have been required to include “minorities and women” in their clinical trials, and inclusion in research has come to be seen as an important strategy for reducing health disparities. On the basis of ethnographic research in oncology clinics in an academic medical center and a public hospital over a period of two years, this article examines how the NIH inclusion mandate is playing out in the context of oncology clinical trials. We argue that although individual patients are recruited to particular trials by individual providers, recruitment processes are shaped by the structural inequities in the U.S. health care system that create differential access to medical facilities with different and unequal research infrastructures. Given the heterogeneity of clinical trials, research infrastructures, and the U.S. health care system, the meanings of inclusion in research are multiple, and inclusion by itself does not ensure equity.

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