Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Spring 2006

Obtaining the Best Possible Treatment
Message From the Administrator
Minimally Invasive Surgical Techniques
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Obtaining the Best Possible Treatment

Surprisingly, 85 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are not aware that they can participate in a clinical trial as part of their treatment options, according to the Coalition of National Cancer Cooperative Groups. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, ask your oncologist about the availability of clinical trials as part of your treatment process. You may be amazed at the benefits.

“Clinical trials offer patients options they wouldn't otherwise have,” says David Henry, MD, vice chairman, Department of Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital. “We recently participated in a clinical trial for a drug that will not be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for another year. It looks like the drug is very beneficial to patients but only those patients in the clinical trial were able to have access to it at this point.”

What is a Clinical Trial?
Before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can approve a new drug or treatment, it must undergo three phases of clinical trials. The first phase begins after extensive laboratory research, trials on animals and the filing of an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. Phase I trials are performed on small, select groups of patients to determine the correct dosage and evaluate any possible side effects. Phase II trials  are used to determine if the new treatment has a positive effect against cancer. During Phase III, a large group of participants is needed to determine how the new drug or treatment compares to the best treatment currently available.

“We typically offer Phase II and Phase III clinical trials,” says Sue Kilcoyne, nurse manager of the clinical research group at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center. “Patients are often afraid they are going to get a placebo instead of an actual drug that will help them but we don't usually do those kind of trials. In most cases, you'll receive the standard treatment plus or minus something else that no one else can access.”

Why Participate?
All of the medications, treatments, procedures and devices used in cancer care today were proven safe and effective in clinical trials before they became available to the public. By participating in a clinical trial, you help to improve cancer research and the availability of new and perhaps better treatment options for yourself and others. In fact, according to the Harris Survey of public attitudes toward clinical trials, 97 percent of cancer clinical trial participants said that they were treated with dignity and respect, the quality of care was good or excellent and their overall experience was positive.

Recently, a clinical trials participant said she would do it again. Though people can be apprehensive about dealing with cancer treatment, she wanted people to understand they might actually get more support when involved in a clinical trial. Participants often comment it feels good to get that extra support and know they are helping others with cancer.

Search for Clinical Trials on TrialCheck

TrialCheck is the most frequently updated searchable database of clinical trials. Use it to locate the latest trials based on certain criteria such as cancer type, stage, previous treatment, daily activity and zip code. Each listing includes information about eligibility, frequently asked questions and a glossary of terms. You can also choose to be notified by email when a new trial that meets your criteria is added. TrialCheck is available at no charge to users.

>> Click here to learn more

Some patients may actually be surprised to learn there are many different types of clinical trials. “You don't necessarily have to be sick to participate,” says Dr. Henry. “There are clinical trials that evaluate the risk for recurrence and other trials that examine the benefits of supportive care. They aren't all focused on the treatment of the disease itself.”

Your Commitment
Although the length of a clinical trial can vary anywhere from a few months to several years, the amount of time a patient needs to devote to checkups and appointments is generally not much more than what is required for typical physician visits. “We review all the clinical trials before becoming involved,” says Dr. Henry. “If we feel the time or commitment that is expected from patients is too demanding or unrealistic, we'll decline to participate. We're very aware of our patients' time and want their experience, both as a patient and as a participant in a clinical trial, to be positive.”

The most important step you can take is to simply ask what trials are available and whether or not they'd be suitable for you. Be sure you understand the potential benefits and risks before you commit. And write down any questions you may have and discuss these with your doctor or nurse. “We're always available for questions,” says Hannae Harbison, clinical nurse specialist at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center. “You are not on your own. We are here to guide you through the process.” Remember that as a participant not only will you continue to receive the best possible cancer care, but you may also be helping thousands of others afflicted with the disease.

For more information about clinical trials at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center, contact 1-800-789-PENN or visit the TrialCheck information page.


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