According to the National Cancer Institute,
approximately 39 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in their lifetime. Clinical trials are a way for people living with cancer
to benefit from promising new treatments unavailable anywhere else. We
recently spoke to
Daniel Mirda, MD, a board-certified medical oncologist at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group, about clinical trials and why patients should consider participating
in them. Dr. Mirda is also President of the Association of Northern California
Oncologists (ANCO), representing over 600 oncologists and hematologists
in northern California at universities and in the community.
Q: What are the benefits of joining a clinical trial?
A: As a cancer patient, you've been through a lot. You've met with
a lot of doctors, and you're determined to explore all your options.
Taking part in a clinical trial should be one of those options you consider.
By joining a clinical trial, you can obtain leading-edge treatment that
is only available to people like you who are qualified and have chosen
to participate. An expert team has worked long and hard to get the treatment
to the trial stage, and they are only conducting the trial because the
evidence shows that the treatment holds significant promise. The new treatment
could work for you, yielding benefits that you wouldn't have otherwise
had a chance to receive.
Q: Are clinical trials safe?
A: Your safety is a paramount concern before, after and at every stage of
the trial. A clinical trial is always preceded by careful laboratory research
before people are allowed to receive the treatment. The trial is conducted
according to a rigorous protocol--a detailed set of steps or instructions--and
your progress will be closely followed along the way. As with any medical
treatment or procedure, there are potential risks involved, and the greatest
possible care is taken to minimize them. We don't presume that a new
treatment is automatically better than a standard treatment--that's
what the study is designed to help find out. Sometimes that means the
new treatment has a chance of unexpected side effects--before you begin,
the physicians involved should advise you of all known side effects of
the treatment and/or medication. A clinical trial is overseen by a medical
ethics committee; and, even after the trial is over, there will be follow-up
monitoring by the trial team to ensure your safety.
Q: Will I still be in the care of my primary health care provider?
A: Yes, the trial physicians will regularly communicate with your primary
care physician throughout the trial. We work closely with your care team
to understand your diagnosis and any potential interactions with your
current treatment, to keep them informed of your progress, and to plan
for possibly continuing the treatment after the trial is over, if that
is an option.
Q: What does it mean that a trial participant must give “informed
A: Before deciding whether or not to participate in a clinical trial, you
need to learn the key facts. We want to make sure you and your family
understand the details. We meet with you to carefully explain the purpose
of the clinical trial, how long it will last, what medications you will
be taking, and the associated risks and benefits. Usually, being in a
clinical trial means you'll have more doctor visits, more treatments,
and more trips to the hospital during the trial period than you would
if you weren't taking part. It's an opportunity for you to invest
in your healing. You wouldn't invest your money before learning everything
about the investment--in the same way, we want you to be fully informed
and comfortable that you are making the right decision in joining a clinical trial.
Q: Can I leave the clinical trial before it is completed?
A: Yes. The informed consent document is not a binding contract. You can
withdraw from the trial at any time. You don't have to tell us why,
and we won't hold it against you; but, we always want to know what
we can do better, and understanding your reasons for leaving is helpful
in designing future trials and making progress in cancer research.
Q: What are the different types of clinical trials?
A: There are a number of different clinical trials, each one with a specific
goal in mind. For example,
treatment trials test new medications and drug combinations, new devices and new approaches
to surgery or radiation therapy.
Prevention trials focus on developing vaccines and better, more efficient ways of neutralizing
disease through medicine, vitamins, minerals or lifestyle changes.
Diagnostic trials help find better, perhaps less invasive, ways to diagnose a particular
disease or condition. There are also
screening trials, which help physicians find the best way to detect certain diseases or
health conditions and
quality of life trials, or supportive care, which investigate ways to improve comfort and quality
of life for individuals suffering from chronic illness or pain.
When you join a cancer clinical trial, you're taking an active part
in your healing, and you're adding to the body of knowledge that could
help other cancer patients in the future. If you or someone you know might
be interested in participating in one of the
currently enrolling clinical trials at St. Joseph Health Medical Group, please contact us at (707) 521-3830
or talk to your doctor.