Just one in 10 cancer patients ask about trials

Only one in 10 patients living with cancer asked their doctor about participating in a cancer trial, it has emerged.

Research by Cancer Trials Ireland also found that many patients consider cancer trials to be the last treatment option, with more than one in five (22%) of those surveyed saying they believe cancer trials are only used when standard treatments have failed.

Consultant oncologist Dr Catherine Kelly, who led the research, said cancer trials could offer hope to all patients with cancer, not just those for whom standard treatment has failed.

“Cancer trials test new and potentially more effective ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer,” she said.

“Most of our trials involve testing new drugs which show promise or new combinations of existing drugs which may offer better outcomes than treatments currently used.”

Cancer Trials Ireland has launched a campaign titled ‘Just Ask Your Doctor’. It wants more people living with cancer to ask their doctor if there is a relevant cancer trial that they can join.

The research found that most people living with cancer would take part in a trial to help future cancer patients.

Asked to list the most important reasons for taking part in a trial, the top two reasons given were: living longer/feeling better (82%); and the chance to advance research (81%).

Cancer Trials Ireland clinical lead Professor Bryan Hennessy said around 100 cancer trials seeking to find answers to cancer are currently recruiting people living with cancer in 16 hospitals around the country.

At any one time, there are around 6,000 people taking part in cancer trials. Since Cancer Trials Ireland was established in 1996, more than 15,000 patients have participated in over 350 trials.

Trials are highly regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority and patients are intensively monitored by their consultant and research teams at all stages.

Prof Hennessy said Cancer Trials Ireland is a proven, effective way of evaluating promising or new experimental treatments.

Dr Kelly said they want to demystify clinical trials and emphasised that they are there for everybody with every type of cancer and at every stage of cancer.

Prof Hennessy said there is still a perception that going on a clinical trial means being a guinea pig but that is not the case.

“Cancer trials are designed in a way to maximise patients’ safety and, at the same time, maximise the delivery of potentially effective new treatments,” he said.

Prof Hennessy said only 3% of people with cancer go on trials and they would like to see that at least doubled.

Dr Kelly said one of the barriers to trials is funding. “There are studies we would like to open but have not been able to do because of funding cuts. Our funding from the Health Research Board was cut by 20% — that’s huge.”

The Irish Cancer Society that supports Cancer Trials Ireland said more patient involvement in cancer trials is crucial.

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