Anyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer is hopeful that advanced therapies are available to not only fight their disease effectively, but also to maximize their quality of life throughout treatment and beyond. The good news is, today’s cancer patients have more cause for optimism than ever before. Across the spectrum of cancers, more and more patients are either being cured or living longer, fuller lives—all thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment options.
Of course, advances in cancer care—or any area of health care for that matter—wouldn’t be possible without clinical trials and the patients who willingly participate in them. According to Rex Mowat, MD, of The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, “Oncology has come a long way, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement and we always need more options for patients. Clinical trials help us devise new, innovative therapies and diagnostics, establish best practices and standards of care, improve outcomes, reduce side effects such as nausea and nerve damage, lower costs, and improve many different aspects of patients’ quality of life.”
Another important focus of cancer clinical trials today is identifying unique characteristics or abnormalities of different cancer cells, which can lead to the development of more targeted medications as well as help doctors determine which patients will likely respond to particular treatments and which won’t.
While it’s impossible to predict the benefits of a clinical trial to any individual, participants sometimes get access (free of charge) to drugs that aren’t available on the market and their health status is monitored very closely by multiple professionals involved in the clinical trial process. And even if participants don’t benefit directly from the study beyond what they can expect from the standard of care, they are still making a vital contribution to research that might revolutionize the care for future patients with the same diagnosis.
Perhaps not surprisingly, people are sometimes reluctant to participate in clinical trials out of concern they’ll be treated like a “guinea pig.” However, Dr. Mowat assures patients that with any clinical trial, stringent protections are in place to ensure this doesn’t happen. Among these safeguards is an institutional review board, or IRB, whose responsibility is to review the clinical trial to ensure it follows approved ethical guidelines for the protection of participants and the integrity of the science.
Furthermore, through the ongoing process of informed consent, study participants are kept apprised of what the treatment will entail, their rights as a participant (including the freedom to decline further participation at any point), potential risks and benefits, alternative treatments that are available, etc. They are never subjected to any treatment or test that wasn’t fully disclosed and discussed in the informed consent process.
Eligibility to participate in cancer clinical trials is based on the tumor type and stage of the cancer along with many additional entry criteria. Patients who wish to learn more are encouraged to discuss available studies with their oncologist.
Dr. Mowat notes that The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers participates in cancer clinical trials through the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, a national NCI-sponsored research group, as well as through pharmaceutical trials. “We’re currently involved in around 80 active studies across the breadth of cancers,” he says. “Plus, we offer these studies right here at The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, so our patients don’t have to travel to places like the Mayo Clinic, University of Michigan, or University of Chicago to participate. We believe offering clinical trials is a marker of a quality oncology group.”❦