Tags: cancer | clinical trials | non-Hodgkins | antibodies

Moving 'Squeaky Wheels' on Cancer Trials

By    |   Tuesday, 21 April 2015 04:23 PM EDT

Clinical trials are essential for moving new methods of preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer from laboratories to physicians' offices and other clinical settings. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of adults with cancer enter a clinical trial.

In contrast, 80 to 90 percent of preadolescent and adolescent cancer patients are entered into clinical trials, accounting for the remarkable progress that has been made in treating childhood cancer.

Wendy Harpham
of Dallas, Texas, a physician and author who was treated with chemotherapy and radiation for a case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed in 1990, is grateful that she entered a clinical trial after a recurrence in 1993. She was enrolled in a Phase 1 trial of the first monoclonal antibody therapy being used to treat cancer.

“I took great comfort in knowing that my enrolling in the trial would contribute to progress in medicine, even if researchers learned that the novel treatment did not work in humans and they needed to look elsewhere for ways to cure my disease,” she said.

A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-produced molecule that's carefully engineered to attach to specific defects in cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies mimic antibodies that are naturally produced as part of the body’s immune response.

Harpham was successfully treated with rituximab, which was approved in 1997, a total of five times over the years. The last time was in 2007, leading to her longest remission.

“I’ve finished raising my babies into adulthood and have helped more patients through my writing and speaking than I ever could have done in my medical practice,” she said.

So why don’t more adults take advantage of clinical trials?

For starters, many patients fear they will receive a placebo. But placebos are generally only used in early stage trials — never when a life-saving treatment is already available. Trials typically compare the best available treatment to the same treatment plus the new drug or protocol that’s being studied.

Also, to enroll in a trial patients must first learn about the experimental treatment, meet eligibility criteria, decide that the potential benefits outweigh the costs and risks, and travel to the trial site for a series of appointments.

According to a recent “Time” magazine cover story entitled “Closing the Cancer Gap,” “Many factors that have nothing to do with science determine which trial drugs a patient has access to. There’s geography, since most Americans are treated at the hospital closest to home, and most hospitals don’t have a lot of clinical trials under way at any given time. There’s also money: Both a patient’s financial situation and that of their cancer center can influence what’s available to them. Finally, there’s human temperament — the squeaky-wheel factor, which can at times put patients at odds with science.”

For more information about understanding and finding clinical trials, you can visit American Cancer Society, Cancer Trials Help, and National Cancer Institute.

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Clinical trials are essential for moving new methods of preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer from laboratories to physicians' offices and other clinical settings.
cancer, clinical trials, non-Hodgkins, antibodies
Tuesday, 21 April 2015 04:23 PM
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