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October 27, 2021

4 considerations for employees who qualify for clinical trials

To determine if clinical trials might be an option worth exploring, people with cancer should consider if the available trials are a fit, reconsider misconceptions, and see if they can contribute to research representing differing ages, genders, races, and ethnicities—with the guidance of their treating oncologists.

Clinical trials help move new cancer therapies and drugs into real-world cancer care. Despite their importance, clinical trials aren't drawing participation from many of the people who need them most. In fact, less than 5% of adult cancer patients enroll in cancer clinical trials, although an estimated 70% are willing to participate. Clearly, a large gap exists.1

What's a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a research study where at least one person undergoes a novel treatment approach. It determines how effective and well-tolerated the approach is compared to current "default" management (i.e., the existing standard of care).2

There are clinical trials for every type of cancer. While many focus on late-stage disease, trials exist to help prevent cancer, facilitate early diagnoses, stop cancers from returning, reduce side effects, and improve quality of life.3

During the trial, participants receive a type of medicine or other intervention available only to them, contribute to ongoing research, receive close monitoring, and learn about the treatment. Because each patient is different, however, clinical trials may not be effective for everyone.4

In addition, some novel strategies represent improvements that might later get adopted as a new standard of care but prove to be no better, and may even be worse, than the current standard management approach.

To determine if a clinical trial is an option that your employees might want to explore, they can:

See if the trial fits

A clinical trial might be worth pursuing if the employee3:

  • Wants to access the newest cancer treatment
  • Received their diagnosis for an advanced, rare, aggressive, or difficult-to-treat cancer
  • No longer responds to their existing treatment
  • Faces a high risk of the cancer recurring or spreading after their primary treatment
  • Wants to help other cancer patients by furthering research

Employees can ask themselves5:

  • What do I hope to achieve by participating, and how realistic are my goals?
  • How do my doctors feel the trial will impact my future cancer journey?
  • Can I access information that will enable me to make an informed decision?
  • Have I fully explored other treatment options?

Ultimately, employees should discuss trial options with their doctor and treatment team.

Reconsider misconceptions

People commonly think that clinical trials are for those with no other options, but that's not necessarily true. Trials are often broadly available to patients who haven’t received prior treatments and can even establish higher standards for initial treatments.

People with cancer may also be put off by concerns that they'll:

  • Getting treated as a "guinea pig" Clinical trials are very highly regulated to ensure that every patient receives the best care available based on current knowledge and standards. Researchers carefully test novel therapies in animals before testing them in humans, and develop all procedures to ensure the best opportunity for positive clinical outcomes, to provide attentive oversight, and to adhere to strict ethical guidelines.
  • Receive a placebo – Relatively few trials give participants a placebo—but when they do, researchers often combine it with the current best standard treatment. If no effective medical treatment exists, they might give a placebo with symptomatic/supportive care as the best standard management outside of a trial.
  • Need to commit a lot of time – Clinical trials are designed to limit the tests and time required for visits while providing careful oversight and attention to patient safety. Additional visits and tests may be required, but they're intentionally minimized. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many trials have made it possible to participate through telemedicine.
  • Need to release personal health information – Researchers safeguard patient confidentiality as an extremely high priority, only sharing identifying information with the minimum number of necessary people to ensure patient safety and regulatory compliance.

Find the available trials

People with cancer should consult with their doctor to explore possible trial options while getting guidance from medical centers actively involved in relevant trials if possible.2 Nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies all fund trials, and hospitals and medical centers sponsor trials led by their own researchers.7

If employees choose to research trials online, they should show these trials' protocol summaries to their doctor before making any decisions.7

Support diversity in research

Historically, people of color, women, and older adults have been underrepresented in clinical trials. This is problematic because age, gender, race, and ethnicity can all affect how people respond to cancer treatments. If a diverse population of individuals participate, they can provide more representative data on the treatment’s effectiveness for a broad range of patients, while helping healthcare providers address the prevalent problem of cancer health disparities.3

Access leading expertise

AccessHope offers employees with cancer access to renowned experts with National Cancer Institute (NCI)–Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers at the forefront of the latest research and lifesaving discoveries. Our cancer subspecialists know of the newest personalized treatments, such as clinical trials and breakthrough medications, and genetic/genomic testing and targeted therapies. While less than 5% of people with cancer are enrolling in clinical trials,1 AccessHope has made recommendations connecting those who need them most to groundbreaking trials in 35% of cases.

This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Howard 'Jack' West.

Last updated October 27, 2021

References
 
1 Unger JM, Cook E, Tai E, Bleyer A. Role of clinical trial participation in cancer research: barriers, evidence, and strategies. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2016;35:185-198.
 
2 Common questions about clinical trials. Cancer Support Community Web site. https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/article/common-questions-about-clinical-trials. Accessed August 19, 2021.
 
3 Clinical trials for cancer. Cancer Support Community Web site. https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/clinical-trials-cancer. Accessed August 19, 2021.
 
4 Potential benefits and risks of taking part in a clinical trial. Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Web site. https://www.cinj.org/clinical-trials/potential-benefits-and-risks-taking-part-clinical-trial. Accessed August 19, 2021.
 
5 Deciding whether to be part of a clinical trial. American Cancer Society Web site.
https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/clinical-trials/what-you-need-to-know/who-does-clinical-trials.html. Updated August 18, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.
 
6 7 myths about clinical trials dispelled. Thompson Cancer Survival Center Blog. https://www.thompsoncancer.com/clinical-trials-myths. Published May 27, 2021. Accessed August 19, 2021.
 
7 Steps to find a clinical trial. National Cancer Institute Web site. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials/search/trial-guide. Updated February 4, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2021.

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