The Importance of Clinical Trials and Why You Should Consider Them
At Christmas, 1998, as I was nearing the end of my radiation treatments, the techs gave me a new calendar, a gift for their cancer patients from a local cancer charity. I didn't know how to react. Why should cancer qualify me for a free anything? Why was this charity spending its money and energy on calendars? Maybe the cute kitten pictures were supposed to cheer me up. I'm sure those responsible for the gift had the best of intentions, but the gift made me uncomfortable.
Cancer charities that focus on services for people in treatment help people at one of the lowest times in their lives. Most of the year the charity that passed out the calendars provided wigs, rides to medical appointments, and other vital services. I appreciate what they do.
However, yesterday I got a much better gift: an invitation to join The Army of Women. (www.armyofwomen.org)
The Army of Women, an initiative cosponsored by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and Avon, is designed to help researchers find the causes of breast cancer by enlisting women of all ages and backgrounds who are willing to consider participating in a research study. The American Association for Cancer Research and the National Breast Cancer Coalition are collaborating on the project.
The Army of Women website describes it this way, "The Love/Avon Army of Women offers a revolutionary new opportunity for YOU to partner with research scientists to move us beyond a cure. Breast cancer has been around for decades, but it does not have to be our future. We can be the generation that eliminates breast cancer by identifying what causes this disease and stopping it before it starts. This is your chance to be part of the research that will end breast cancer. Sign up for your sister, mother, daughter, granddaughter, best friend, and the woman you met last week."
According to Dr. Love, one problem in previous cancer research is that most researchers don't have much access to real people, so they tend to work with animal models that often don't pan out when they try to apply the results.
Participants will receive notices about studies that need volunteers and then can decide which is right for them. Participation could range from filling out a questionnaire, to providing a tissue sample, to entering a clinical trial. According to the website, major promotion of the program will begin October 1, 2008 as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I've participated in research studies before, and doing so always makes me feel like I am helping find the cure for cancer. Sometimes researchers interested in researching Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) will write to one of the mailing lists I belong to, and if what they need fits what I can do, I'll sign up. But getting volunteers from a mailing list means that researchers miss many possible participants.
Cancer patients interested in participating in clinical drug trials can ask their doctor if a trial fits them or check the National Institutes of Health list of clinical trials at http://clinicaltrials.gov/. The website allows you to search for trials that might fit you by disease, location, drug and other criteria. However, the people motivated to ask about clinical trials are usually already sick, and researchers often need to work with healthy people.
What appears to be new about the Army of Women is that it will provide a data base of women of all ages and backgrounds and help researchers find the specific group they need for the study. A committee will screen researchers and their studies for ethical and privacy concerns. Then they will email participants about the study and the specific requirements. If a researcher needs healthy premenopausal women whose mothers had breast cancer, they have access to a huge number of women who might fit the study.
After reading the fine print, I signed up to join the Army of Women, and I hope you will check it out and think about participating too.
Also read PJ Hamel's post on the Army of Women.