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Few Cancer Patients Take Advantage of Clinical Trials

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Chemotherapy infusion pump; Researchers with Carbone Cancer Center find few cancer patients take advantage of clinical trialsMADISON- Why do so few cancer patients take advantage of clinical trials? A new study says one reason is they are not hearing that such trials are a treatment option for them.

Sixty percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients say they were never told that such clinical trials were a treatment option for them, according to researchers at the Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).

Lead investigator Timothy Wassenaar, MD, MS presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, held in Chicago from May 30 to June 3, 2008.

"It could be that newly diagnosed patients don't hear anything else from the physician after they're told they have cancer. It doesn't necessarily mean that physicians aren't giving patients the information," Wassenaar noted as one possible explanation for the findings. Earlier studies found that only 2 to 4 percent of new adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials. The UW Carbone Cancer Center, Wisconsin's only comprehensive cancer center, offers more than 300 clinical trials a year.

"The take-home message is that participating in clinical trials not only helps researchers and physicians learn about better ways to treat cancer. But all patients who participate in such trials get state-of-the-art cancer care," said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate director of Carbone Cancer Center and co-investigator on the study.

Wassenaar and his team studied nearly 1900 Wisconsin cancer patients. The patients had been diagnosed with one of four cancers including breast, colorectal, lung and prostate.

"The data show that breast, colorectal and lung cancer patients are more likely to participate in clinical trials as compared to prostate cancer patients," stated Wassenaar, who is completing a hematology fellowship at the SMPH.

According to the study, 9.8 percent of breast cancer patients and approximately 11 percent of both lung and colorectal cancer patients sign up for clinical trials. In contrast, only 2.5 percent of prostate cancer patients are likely to enroll. The national average for participation in all clinical trials is about 3 percent, according to national studies.

Wassenaar says patients who have to travel distances for care, live in a rural setting or are involved in cancer-specific support groups are more likely to participate in clinical trials. Patients who are not satisfied with their care are less likely to try clinical trials.

Wassenaar said more research is needed on exactly why many cancer patients don't participate in clinical trials and what methods might be more effective in communicating that clinical trials are a treatment option.

"One of the major barriers to participation in clinical trials was eliminated in Wisconsin last year with passage of a law that mandates insurance companies to cover costs of patients in clinical trials," noted Remington. A total of 23 states have similar laws, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance.

Date published: 06/08/2008 (updated)

Date Published: 06/11/2008


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