How clinical trials help patients with cancer

10:28 AM, Jan 16, 2020
8:39 AM, Jan 21, 2020

The phrase “clinical trials” may make some patients with cancer nervous. Aren’t they about experimenting on human guinea pigs?

Not at all, says Saulius Girnius MD, a hematologist oncologist with the TriHealth Cancer Institute. At TriHealth, clinical trials mean improving patient care.

“‘Clinical trial’ doesn’t necessarily mean experimental treatment,” Dr. Girnius says. “They’re designed for the patient’s benefit. Sometimes it’s comparing two tried and true techniques to see which is better, like comparing a Mercedes and a BMW.”

There are many benefits that come with participating in clinical trials, Dr. Girnius says. Patients tend to live longer, respond more quickly to treatments, and have longer remission.

In fact, clinical trials can provide some of the best care for patients with cancer, says YunMi Kwon PharmD, Clinical Research Manager Pharmacist at the TriHealth Hatton Research Institute.

“There’s potential benefit with any clinical trial, especially in cases where standard of care treatment options have been exhausted.,” Dr. Kwon says. “There is also potential risk associated with investigational treatments, since it is not known if they will be beneficial to a patient. Nevertheless, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network believes that the best treatment for a patient with cancer is in a clinical trial.”

“Cancer is a very complex disease that requires a multidisciplinary approach, and clinical trials are part of the comprehensive care that is offered to our patients at TriHealth,” Dr. Kwon says. “There are many clinical trials that are focused on identifying the best approach to treating patients with cancer, not only from a disease management perspective, but also improving their quality of life and overall health and well-being.”

Dr. Kwon manages a team of oncology research nurses and coordinators at TriHealth who are an integral part of the multidisciplinary care team. The research nurses and coordinators work with the physicians to determine if a clinical trial would be the best option for a patient. If a clinical trial is appropriate, the research coordinator will discuss the clinical trial in detail with the patient and obtain their consent. If the patient meets all of the trial’s eligibility criteria, they will be enrolled into the study.

“Our team helps to coordinate all appointments and requirements of the clinical trial for the patient.” Dr. Kwon says. “Once a participant is enrolled into a study, our coordinators are there, every step of the way, to ensure that the study treatment is delivered safely, and the study protocol is accurately followed. They also gather important safety information and data points, such as the patient’s treatment response and side effects, and submit this information to the study sponsors.”

“Many of our patients really like the extra care and oversight that they receive, as a result of being involved in a clinical trial. There may also be potential financial benefits to participating in a clinical trial. Routine care, or the standard of care treatment, is usually the responsibility of the patient or their insurance, but anything specific to research — for example, research specific lab tests, imaging requirements, and the study drug — is paid for by the clinical trial.” Dr. Kwon says.

Many clinical trials are studying targeted treatment, as opposed to traditional chemotherapy, which targets a cancer’s specific molecular pathway to prevent growth and ultimately kill the cancer. In addition, there is an immense amount of research studying immunotherapy drugs that rev up an individual’s immune system, to attach cancer., Dr. Kwon says. “The landscape of cancer treatment is changing at a rapid pace with discoveries from cancer research. It is a race against time to determine what the best treatment option will be for an individual.”

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