Experimental cancer trials are seeing low participation rates.
When Lee Giller’s breast cancer returned in November 2012, he faced a prognosis of 26 months to live.
So the 58-year-old Akron businessman, whose estrogen-receptor-positive and BRCA 1 breast cancer had spread to his bones, liver and lungs, said it “didn’t take much arm-twisting” to convince him to join a clinical trial to test a new treatment.
“At that point I was in dire shape and coughing a lot with shortness of breath,” he said. “Bottom line, I did it for self-preservation and self-interest.”
But Mr. Giller said he might have decided against entering a trial when initially diagnosed in 2005, given the five-year survival rate of 93 percent or higher for those with early stage breast cancer.
“I do understand why people are fearful,” said Mr. Giller, now seeking to re-enter the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute clinical trial to get the still-experimental treatment on a compassionate basis. “But if you do your homework and check with several doctors and trust your doctors, then you should go for it.”
Nowadays, most adults with cancer are hesitant to join clinical trials with only 3 to 5 percent of cancer patients volunteering to participate. As a result, one in five cancer studies fail to draw enough participants to determine whether or not the new treatment works, states a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington study published in December.
Researchers are working to resolve the problem in multiple ways, including publicizing the safety and importance of the research and creating patient committees to help make participation more convenient and less stressful.
There’s more active participation for studies involving the skin cancer melanoma and pancreatic, lung and colon cancers due to lower survival rates and fewer treatment options. Success in those trials provides the best hope for extended survival. The real problem rests with breast and other cancers with higher survival and cure rates, although more trials are underway to focus on treating cancers that have spread.