For many, clinical trials offer hope for people going through cancer when standard treatment doesn’t do the job. Yet, they remain somewhat of an enigma to many – what are they exactly? Who are they relevant for? Why be part of one?
Let’s break down the what’s, why’s, and who’s of clinical trials for cancer and learn about the great conundrum of clinical trials today.
What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial for cancer compares the effects of one treatment with another in order to improve treatments, develop new ways of finding, treating and preventing cancer, and advancing cancer care and quality of life. They are the only way for new treatments, therapies, and drugs to be introduced to the market. There are 4 main phases of clinical trials (1 through 4) and as they advance through the stages, the more participants they have. Learn more about the ins and outs of clinical trials here.
Why participate in one?
There are several reasons that people want to take part in clinical trials for cancer. Firstly, if you have cancer and the traditional treatment method is not working, clinical trials offer a new method of treatment that can prove more effective in diminishing or eliminating the cancer. In addition, they help cancer research by determining whether new ways to treat cancer are better, help understand side effects, or improve quality of life. Some may not help you directly, but by participating, can improve the lives of people affected by cancer in the future.
It’s good to keep in mind that, as with anything new, the risk in participating in a trial is that there’s a chance that the new treatment turns out to be no better, or worse, than the standard treatment. Always consult your doctor and healthcare team to inform yourself fully before applying.
Listen to this podcast episode about clinical trials from Boehringer Ingelheim – War On Cancer Co-Founder Sebastian Hermelin is the host and it covers what the benefits, risks and rewards are of taking part of one for cancer, from the perspective of a patient and physician.
Who can participate in a clinical trial?
Every clinical trial has a protocol that describes what will be done during the trial, how the trial will be conducted, and why each part of the trial is necessary.
The protocol includes requirements that must be met for you to join a clinical trial – eligibility criteria such as age, gender, stage of cancer, and treatment history. These criteria help reduce the medical differences among people in the trial so that researchers can be more certain that the results found are due to the treatment being tested, rather than other factors.
If you meet the eligibility criteria and inform your healthcare team of your interest, you’ll be tested to make sure you’re a fit before being accepted. Learn more here.
The challenge clinical trials face today
According to research, people who go through cancer are often willing to participate in a trial if they believe they will receive better treatment or if the results of the trials can help others. However, there’s a longstanding problem and that is that right now, 55% of clinical trials are cancelled because they fail to find enough participants to continue with the trial. So, people want to participate, but clinical trials don’t have enough participants. This conundrum means that people who currently have cancer have less of a chance to be part of or complete trials that could help save their lives, and it slows down cancer research.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, hundreds of clinical trials were put on halt or cancelled worldwide, putting cancer research and the development of new drugs on hold. This also means that hundreds of thousands of people in an active trial had to stop and cancer research was put on the brakes.
In order to mend this, Dr. Mark Fleury, a policy principal and emerging science researcher at ACS CAN, says it’s important that physicians proactively discuss clinical trial options with people who go through cancer so that they have the opportunity to say yes.
Right now, there are more people than ever who want to take part in a clinical trial that could potentially prove life-saving, and as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, the hope is that trials get up and running again and successfully find and recruit enough participants.
The alternative is to put the power back into the patients’ hands. How? By making it easy and accessible for everyone interested to find relevant clinical trials to present to their healthcare teams and see if they’re a match.
“Ultimately, the goal is to provide patients with greater access to trials, more choices for treatment and complete trials faster.”Dr. Joseph Unger, Ph.D., M.S., Health Services Researcher and Biostatistician
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The information shared does not constitute a medical consultation and is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with your doctor or other qualified health providers for questions regarding a medical condition, especially during the active period of Corona / Covid19. Please do not disregard professional health provider advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here. In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor, 112 or 911 immediately.