Cancer affects nearly one in three Americans at some point in their lives. It can be frightening to hear the word ‘cancer,’ particularly when it affects someone we love. But for the vast majority, a cancer diagnosis is no longer the terminal diagnosis it once was. Today, more people than ever are surviving cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that by 2026, there will be nearly 26 million cancer survivors living in the US.
The ability to survive a diagnosis of cancer has come as a result of improvements in care. Early diagnosis (before cancer has the chance to spread), and better treatments have allowed realistic hope for survival and cure. It’s important to realize that ‘new’ treatments are not the same as ‘better,’ more effective treatments. But how do we get ‘better’ treatments? And where do they come from? The answer is clinical trials.
Clinical trials are the careful, unbiased, scientific study of tools (such as drugs or treatments) in the fight against cancer. Clinical trials are the way we discover what works, and what works better than what we had before. As an example, in 2001, treatment options for someone diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) were limited. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the new drug, Imatinib, as a treatment for patients with this rare cancer. A clinical trial had asked patients to be assigned to one of two groups; one group was treated with interferon plus chemotherapy and the other group was treated with the new drug, Imatinib.
Researchers conducting the clinical trial carefully followed the patients’ progress in both groups, noting any problems individuals had with either treatment and any benefits. After a period of time, it became clear that the group taking the Imatinib were responding significantly better to the treatment and were also having fewer side effects. That clinical trial changed the cancer world. Imatinib became the new, best treatment for patients with CML. To this day, Imatinib is one of the standard treatments for patients with CML. Prior to Imatinib, less than 50% of patients with CML survived more than five years. Today, four of five individuals with CML who received Imatinib as part of an early clinical trial survive at least 10 years after starting the medication. Imatinib was the first drug in a new category of drugs that opened the door to more effective treatments in many different cancers.
We owe the improvements in cancer care to the men and women who participate in clinical trials – both researchers who organize the clinical trials and patients who agree to participate in those trials. You will hear about many ‘new’ cancer treatments. However, it is treatments that demonstrated better outcomes for patients in carefully conducted clinical trials that have changed and will continue to change a terminal illness to one of increasing survivability.
Scotland Cancer Treatment Center has had a long-standing clinical affiliation with the Duke Cancer Network. Through this affiliation, Duke Medical and Radiation Oncologists provide cancer care locally at Scotland Cancer Treatment Center, a testimony to Scotland’s and Duke’s commitment to keeping patients close to home. And as an added benefit to the Duke Health affiliation, Scotland patients have local access to clinical trials, decreasing the burden for some patients of having to travel long distances.
In fact, in 2017, Scotland Cancer Treatment Center enrolled 48 patients into clinical trials. Additionally, Scotland Cancer Treatment Center was one of two clinical affiliations that participated in a clinical trial called Using a Geriatric Oncology Assessment to Link with Services, (GOAL). The objective of this unique quality improvement trial looked at the feasibility and effectiveness of a geriatric oncology screener in community-based oncology clinics. Results showed that the use of the geriatric screener in rural oncology clinics helped to identify geriatric conditions that would benefit from services in nearly all enrolled participants. Scotland Cancer Treatment Center and Duke are proud to offer a variety of trials to the greater Scotland community, such as treatment trials, quality-of-life trials, and registry trials. It’s our hope that increased access to clinical trials and evidence-based therapies will lead to better patient outcomes and ultimately improve the lives of the people of Scotland.
Dr. Jeffrey Klotz, medical director, shares: “The biggest reason why patients do not participate in clinical trials is that they did not know a clinical trial was an option. Even though clinical trials are not the right fit for every patient, I think it is important for every patient to at least consider this option at some point in their treatment especially for patients who have limited treatment options.”
If you would like to contact Scotland Cancer Treatment Center, call 910-291-7630 and speak with Jennifer Wilkes (RN, BSN, OCN, medical oncology manager) or Amy Robertson (RN, BSN, clinical research nurse).