Over the years, clinical trials have done wonders in advancing cancer treatments.
But despite widespread public awareness campaigns on behalf of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), it seems the majority of patients are unaware of the latest cancer clinical trials available to them. Clinical trials are still the only means to test new cancer treatment and medication, but the AACR says fewer than 5 percent of cancer patients volunteer. The same report indicates that 75 percent would be willing to participate if they were informed of relevant clinical trials. What is responsible for the disconnect?
“There are some barriers to participating in clinical trials despite the possibilities. Insurance doesn’t always cover involvement in trials, and some physicians advise older patients against participating,” explains oncologist Dr. Stephen D. Nimer, the Leukemia Service Vice Chair of the Department of Medicine Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “But a great deal of medical research refutes both of those objections.”
Nimer notes studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that patients enrolled in trials don’t necessarily accrue higher treatment costs, as well as others evaluating the participation of elderly patients. “Most patients diagnosed with cancer are 65 and older, yet that age group is extremely under-represented in cancer trials. Evidence is growing that reasonably fit seniors can undergo aggressive chemotherapy just as well as younger adults,” says Nimer, who recently discussed treatment advances for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in an interview with Hildy Dillon from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
MDS causes immature blood cells to build up in bone marrow, leading to a shortage of red and white blood cells and platelets. The disease is often a precursor to certain leukemias.
New drug treatment alternatives for MDS may be on the horizon — there are medications being explored in drugs in phase 3 clinical trials, like rigosertib (ONO1910. Na) from Onconova Therapeutics, which is being tested in many centers around the world. The clinical trial, called ONTIME, is designed for MDS patients who haven’t responded to previous treatment.