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Consider a Clinical Trial

Posted 6/22/2015

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  This is an old refrain, but worth repeating: everything we know about cancer treatment was learned from clinical trials. We are all standing, gratefully, on the shoulders of men and women who agreed to participate in the past. There is always a need for patients to sign on to trials, and I am writing to, again, encourage you to consider such participation if it is appropriate in your care.

  People sometimes think that clinical trials are only for very ill patients (meaning, there is no other treatment left, so you may as well try a trial) or that signing up turns you into a medical guinea pig. Neither is true. Clinical trials are indeed sometimes available and appropriate for people with advanced disease, but they are also sometimes designed for people with early cancers. In 1993, when I was treated for my first breast cancer (it was Stage II), I participated in a trial that examined the possibility of concurrent radiation and chemo. Note that this did not become the standard of care; I suspect that was because the side effects were pretty bad, and the outcomes may not have been any better than doing the two treatments sequentially.

  This is a good piece from The New York Times about trials. Consider talking with your doctor.

Clinical Trials Need Cancer Patients

I HAVE a very rare and aggressive type of skin cancer — Merkel cell carcinoma — for which there is no approved cure, and I’m participating in a clinical trial to deal with it. If successful, the trial will show that the drug I’m being given at least manages what is now an often fatal disease.
Unfortunately, participation in clinical trials by cancer patients is, like my disease, extremely rare. Only
roughly 3 percent of all cancer patients in the United States ever agree to join a trial. Among women and many minorities, the participation rates are even lower.
This is not a (excuse the term) benign problem. Clinical trials are the way promising new drugs are tested
and progress against cancer is made. The paucity of participants also significantly increases the time it takes for new medications and treatments to be approved because the trials take so much longer to complete. And that means that many people who would benefit from these drugs won’t get them in time.
There are many reasons participation is so low.
In some cases, a patient’s doctor may not know about the trial or may not want to lose the patient. Or the
doctor may be unwilling to spend the time it takes to enroll the patient in a trial, especially because physicians aren’t always paid to do so.

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