With advancements being all the time, cancer care is an area of medicine in which hope springs eternal. And cancer patients can play a major role in this blessed work, helping others down the road and possibly even improving their own odds for beating the disease.
A major key to this important work is clinical trials.
“All patients with a cancer diagnosis should know what clinical trials are, and why they might be something they would like to participate in,” said Thelma Baker, director of oncology services for the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.
A clinical trial is one of the final stages of the long process it takes to develop a new cancer treatment, prevention aide or diagnosis tool. After a treatment has been developed and tested vigorously in a lab, but before it can be approved for public use, it must be tested on a limited number of volunteers to verify its effectiveness, identify side effects and make adjustments. After all, just because something works in a lab does not mean it will work for certain in humans. The only way to really know is to test it on actual humans.
According to Karen Blatter, oncology research nurse coordinator for the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care, there are multiple benefits for a cancer patient to participate in a clinical trial.
“The treatments we have today were all developed through clinical trials,” Blatter said. “For some patients, participation in a clinical trial provides an opportunity to receive new and possibly better treatment, which would not otherwise be available. For many others though, participating in a clinical trial is a way they can turn something bad into something good. They can benefit others by helping to find ways to prevent or cure cancer.”
While some clinical trials may offer early access to a promising new treatment, others simply request the donation of a blood sample or tumor tissue that was collected at the time of diagnosis. Scientists study the tumor and blood cells to discover biomarkers and develop treatments that target the cancer and preserve healthy cells, Blatter said.
If you participate in a clinical trial, you will still receive the standard treatment approved for your condition, but you are not guaranteed to be given the new drug or treatment. You may be given a placebo, which is given to one group of participants so scientists can compare the results of the people given the actual new treatment and people who weren’t. But even if you receive a placebo instead of the actual new treatment, you will still always receive at least the current standard treatment.
If you are given the experimental new treatment, there may be unexpected or severe side effects. That is why a clinical trial is necessary – to find issues with a treatment that couldn’t be guessed at in the lab.
Participating in a clinical trial may also require more of your time. You may have to make extra visits to your care facility – requiring transportation and time away from other things.
According to Shylendra Sreenivasappa, MD, director of cancer research at OSF Saint Anthony, clinical trials are a vital part of the process to develop safer and more effective cancer treatments and care delivery.
“It is one of the best ways to get excellent care and give back to the community and other patients with the same diagnosis,” Dr. Sreenivasappa said.
You can learn more about the current clinical trials being conducted by OSF HealthCare in cooperation with the University of Illinois Cancer Center on the OSF HealthCare website.
If you are a cancer patient, ask your oncologist or nurse navigator if there are any studies for which you might qualify. Or, you can call the OSF Saint Anthony Cancer Center Clinical Trials office at (815) 227-2676.