Questions for your Breast Cancer Physicians:
- Do you participate in clinical trials for breast cancer?
- Would a clinical trial offer me new treatment options?
- What are the risks of participating in a clinical trial?
- Where is the closest institution that participates in clinical trials?
What is a clinical trial?
Any new cancer drug, device, or treatment needs to be studied to make sure it is safe and effective. Every breast cancer drug, such as tamoxifen or chemotherapy, must complete the clinical trial process before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cancer treatment. New devices for surgery and radiation also go through this complex process.
Less than 5% of all patients with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials. Patients with cancer willing to participate in clinical trials are essential for the advancement of cancer care. All treatment options available for patients today are based on the generous participation of others in breast cancer clinical trials.
Who may benefit from participating?
Newer treatment advances may be available only through clinical trials. Many of these new therapies will not prove to be better than current treatments, but some will. Participating in a clinical trial may give you the opportunity to benefit from these new therapies.
Patients who have more advanced stage cancer (inflammatory breast cancer or stage III and IV cancers) usually have more clinical trial options. These cancers are the most worrisome and threatening. Many new treatments are first studied with those who have advanced cancer. It is worth inquiring with your breast specialists about clinical trials if you have advanced stage cancer.
Another active area of research involves “Triple Negative” and “HER2-positive” breast cancer. Many clinical trials are trying to find better therapies for these more aggressive cancers.
Clinical trials are also available for early stage breast cancer. The majority women diagnosed with breast cancer have Stage I or II disease. These early stage trials involve surgical techniques, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. Sharing your time to advance breast cancer care can be a rewarding experience during a difficult time.
What are the possible risks of participating?
Clinical trials require a personal commitment of time and effort during a stressful time. Before participating, make sure you have the personal and emotional resources for your own breast cancer treatment journey. “Adverse Events” with new treatments can result in harm. Although there is risk with any cancer treatment, the risks with new treatments are not as well known.
Some seek clinical trials for their unique cancer situation. Others are asked to participate in clinical trials by their physicians. Make sure you are willing and able to participate if you are asked. You can always say “No” to participating. Make sure you do not feel pressured into entering a clinical trial by your breast cancer team.
This excellent brochure (here) “Guide to Understanding Breast Cancer Treatment Research Studies” is a good overview. Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality information about breast cancer to patients.
This “patient perspective” is an outstanding review (here) “Clinical Trials 101: What you need to know when considering participation in a medical study.” Johns Hopkins Health Review is published for the public twice a year by Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins University.
This online resource (here) “Clinical Trials” is a comprehensive database to research clinical trials in breast cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology is a leading organization of physicians that care for those with cancer.
This resource can introduce you to breast cancer clinical trials across the country. It has an online, personalized matching tool that can help find a clinical trial for your unique cancer situation.
More Detailed References:
There are excellent resources (here) “FDA Drug Approval Process Infographic” from the Food and Drug Administration.
This detailed site (here) outlines information in video and text format about clinical trials and how to find clinical trials in cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists is a leading organization of clinicians who care for people living with cancer.