Special Report: Clinical Trials

Christopher Lukas Health Guide
  • In a recent article by HealthDay News, E.J. Mundell, a HealthDay reporter, points to a number of issues that have severely reduced the volunteers available for clinical trials in a variety of cancers.
    Because this is an important aspect of care for some cancer patients, I wanted to comment on the article, the problems and the opportunities.

    First of all, I’ve never been on a cancer drug trial, simply because the cancers I’ve had were not serious enough to call for my opting for other than standard treatment. In other words, when I got lymphoma, it was a low grade, early stage lymphoma, and standard radiation was enough to put it in remission. As for my prostate cancer, I’m not sure I would have had treatment right away – if I had known then what I know now – but it was clear that present treatments were sufficient to put my prostate cancer into remission too. (Note, I don’t say “cured.” We don’t know what cures most cancers. Still, remission for 5-10 years is welcome to most patients!)
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    So who does need a clinical trial? The suggestion by experts is that if you have a cancer that is particularly stubborn, vigorous, fast-growing or beyond the current knowledge of cancer medicine, a clinical trial is certainly worth a stab. Taking it right to the heart of this section of this web site, if you or anyone you know, has a Stage III or IV prostate cancer (one that has gotten beyond the gland itself, perhaps into other organs, or into bones) present methods of treatment may not be sufficient to curb your cancer or lengthen your life. If then, you hear of a cancer trial with a new drug or a new technique, why not opt for it?

    How do you hear? The best way, of course, would be for your oncologist to know about a trial and to tell you about it; to help you contact the researchers involved; and to see you through the trial. But you yourself can find about upcoming trials on the National Cancer Institute web site (cancer.gov) by using its search engine for clinical trials. Or ask your doctor to do the research for you.

    How do you get involved? Once again, your oncologist is the easiest way.

    What if my doctor doesn’t want to get me involved in a trial? First off, you need to raise the issue with him/her and see what objections might be raised. Does your oncologist know something bad about this particular set of researchers? Is the trail not really applicable to you? Or is your oncologist just against trials for some other logical reason?

    What are the downsides? In reality, there are few downsides to clinical trials. You are highly unlikely to get one that involves a placebo, since most cancer trials simply pit an old (known) treatment against a new (unknown) one, so you’re going to get treatment one way or the other. Second, you’re going to be treated very well by your physicians, both those involved in the research and by your own oncologist, since the spotlight shines on those undergoing trials. There are some drawbacks to institutions and physicians from enlisting patients in trials, but these are mainly monetary and shouldn’t concern you. After all, your interest is the best treatment, the treatment most likely to reduce the progress of your cancer, and your insurance company should be encouraged to pay what is necessary to get it!

  • So why aren’t enough people signing up? There are two basic reasons. The first: not enough physicians are encouraging people to enter trials. This may be because many patients don’t need trials (there are enough “standard” treatments for the cancers out there), or because those physicians aren’t enthusiastic about trials. The second: there is an increasing amount of research and an increasing number of trials. That’s a good thing.
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    Just because there are trials out there doesn’t mean you should immediately jump for the most far-out “cure,” but there is also no reason not to explore options, especially if the treatments you now have don’t seem to be destined to help you improve your condition.

    Learn more about clinical trials.
Published On: July 12, 2006