For many women, clinical trials can offer the best treatment available for breast cancer. Most cancer patients are hesitant to consider participating in a clinical trial for several reasons:
Fear of not receiving treatment, or getting the “sugar pill”.
In fact, cancer clinical trials offer two “arms” of treatment, in which patients are selected to participate in one or the other. The first arm of treatment is the best cancer therapy currently available. The second arm of the trial is the best therapy possible, plus a new therapy that needs to be studied.
Fear of being “stuck” in a clinical trial, or being a “guinea pig”.
When a patient chooses to participate in a trial, that patient agrees to the terms of participation–for example, to be randomly assigned to a treatment arm. Does this mean that a patient must remain with the trial if they are uncomfortable or do not think it’s the best option for them? No! A patient can choose to be removed from a trial. In addition, the physicians who treat patients in a clinical trial are ethically bound to treat each individual in a way that improves their condition. If a patient is on the arm of a trial involving a new therapy, and it is not doing well, a physician is ethically bound to remove that patient from that arm of the trial. Knowing that a patient and his or her healthcare provider have the power to make decisions that offer the best cancer treatment possible helps patients feel less like “guinea pigs”.
Fear of randomization.
Randomization involves an impartial and unbiased selection of patients to an arm of a clinical trial. When a patient is randomized, their information is entered into a computer and the computer determines (based on a number of factors) which arm of the trial that patient will participate. Many women, especially in bone marrow transplant trials, do not want to be randomized for fear of not receiving the experimental therapy. However, randomization remains the most crucial and important step in conducting clinical trials. Every advance in cancer treatment has come through testing in randomized clinical trials. It is very important to realize that if one treatment arm is clearly better that the other, then the trial wouldn’t need to be done.
In order to offer the best treatment options for cancer patients, it is crucial to know how effective new treatments are. This can only be determined by comparing outcomes in patients who have received the best current treatment with patients who have received the new treatment. It is only then that oncologists and surgeons are able to offer new therapies knowing that they are truly more beneficial for treating patients.
In addition, many clinical trials have an allowance for patients to switch to the experimental arm of treatment. This is especially true for bone marrow and stem cell transplant trials. Participating in a clinical trial could be the best treatment plan available to you, or someone you love who is fighting breast cancer. Many cancer patients feel good about their experience in a clinical trial because they received the best treatment available for their cancer, and at the same time helped researchers find better and more effective treatments (and possibly a cure) for those who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the future.