You’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Your oncologist reviews available treatment options with you, which may include traditional chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, and, there may even be the option of a clinical trial.
People may think of a clinical trial as the last resort for treatment, but in reality, a clinical trial or study looks for new treatments and answers. For example, is one treatment better than another? From a patient point of view, this might mean different and potentially more effective approaches to treating their illness.
In fact, clinical trials have resulted in a 30-70 per cent reduction in recurrence risks for breast, colorectal, and lung cancers. In addition, the high cure rates of many pediatric cancers is a direct result of rigorous clinical trials.
Research for more effective treatments with fewer side effects is happening around the world and right here at Eastern Health every day.
“Clinical trials are a key component of cancer care,” says Dr. Craig Pochini, radiation oncologist and physician director of Clinical Trials at Eastern Health. “Over the last 50 years, they have defined the standards of care for all cancer types.”
The clinical trials team at Eastern Health are a passionate, committed group who are deeply connected to the work they do.
The research they are part of is exciting – they are contributing in a big way to developing the best treatments they can and to improving quality of life for cancer patients. Some team members have been working long enough to actually witness some dramatic changes in the way many treatments are delivered.
Since the early 1990s, the Eastern Health Provincial Cancer Care Program, formerly the Newfoundland Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation, has participated in over 100 clinical trials (studies) for many types of cancer, including breast, prostate, lung, colon and cervix cancer. Study participants and clinical trials staff have contributed to the many improvements in treatments and the number of available options over the years.
In fact, the commitment of the participant is the real key to success, actually contributing to improvements in survival rates.
“We are constantly searching for new agents to attack cancer cells in novel ways,” says Dr. Patti Power, gynecologic oncologist. “Providing women with access to clinical trials is vital to contributing to the body of information about ovarian cancer.”
For example, one ovarian cancer study changed the type of chemotherapy given to women. “We discovered that the addition of Taxol to the treatment plan demonstrated a marked improvement in survival,” says Liz Fuller, research registered nurse coordinator. “This has been one of the biggest changes in the treatment of ovarian cancer in the last 20 years and we are proud to have participated in such a landmark trial.”
Another study focused on a very specific group of men with prostate cancer. These men were followed for 10 years and the end result showed that hormone treatment given intermittently was just as effective as when given continuously. This knowledge has benefitted other patients by decreasing treatment-related side effects.
In a 2007 lung cancer study, a key finding showed that fewer radiation treatments, but at a higher dose, provided the same disease control and survival benefits. Interestingly there were minimal differences in severe side effects, a positive outcome for patients.
With so many advancements in cancer care over the last five to 10 years, treatments are becoming a moving target in that “targeted therapies” have changed the traditional face of cancer treatment. The often thought of side effects such as nausea and hair loss that had become synonymous with cancer treatments are being replaced with well tolerated treatments and improved quality of life.
As we look to the future, treatment trends are becoming tailor made for individuals. The keen desire and commitment of the oncologists, the participants and the teams that work behind the scenes, ensure that further advancements will continue to improve the lives of those they touch. ■
Ask your oncologist about possible clinical trials and whether or not there is one suited to you as a possible treatment option. General information about clinical trials can be found on the Eastern Health website. To find a cancer trial in Canada, visit the Canadian Cancer Trials website.
This story was written by Gail House, a research registered nurse coordinator with Eastern Health’s Clinical Trials division.