ASK THE EXPERT: Jaime Richardson, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP
I’m sure most of you are familiar with t.v. commercials for new drugs-sun-bathed images of people enjoying everyday life and spending time with loved ones, while the narrator rattles off every potential side effect one could imagine. I recently saw a commercial for a new cancer immunotherapy drug, which seemed to fit the cliché at first, until it concluded with a message thanking both the doctors and patients who participated in the clinical trials that led to its approval. I ended up playing the commercial back several times, because I was so pleasantly surprised that it made that connection for the public–that the use of this new therapy, in effect this new hope for patients with a certain type of cancer, was possible because of clinical trial participation.
Every treatment we have today to fight cancer was once part of a clinical trial. While a trial may not be the right option for every patient, and each person has the right to choose the direction of their care, I would always wish for patients to be aware that clinical trials may be an option for them. That way, when they do choose the treatment that suits them best, all cards are on the table. I have had several patients tell me that they didn’t know trials were available for those with newly diagnosed cancer, or for those who still have standard treatment options left to try. While “last resort” trials do exist, those trials are typically early Phase studies, to find a safe dose of a new medication. Later phase trials, such as Phase 3, are the pivotal trials aiming to improve the current gold standard for treatment, or provide a new alternative. These studies may be an up-front option for people diagnosed with cancer for the first time, or for those who have tried other therapies previously.
For patients who are interested in contributing to cancer research, but are less inclined to participate in drug treatment trials, there are other kinds of studies available. In addition to surgery and radiation trials, there are studies looking at the impact of diet and exercise on cancer, as well as some looking to improve the frequency or severity of side effects from cancer or its treatment. There are trials which examine issues such as pain and fatigue, and I’ve even seen trials studying the effect of humor and meditation on quality of life-the opportunities are broad!
Most importantly, and speaking as a former research nurse, I would like to add that the doctors and nurses who work on clinical trials truly value the time and dedication of trial participants. When a clinical trial is conducted, we are able to get answers to important questions, even though not every new and promising treatment leads to an FDA approval. For the drug in the commercial I mentioned above, its FDA approval was based on the ability of the drug to extend survival in certain patients-not because it cured the disease. Nonetheless, it was a significant step, and will directly impact how we approach the management of that particular cancer.
We are learning about the behavior of cancer on a much more granular level and at a far greater pace than ever before, which has challenged us to keep up with these discoveries by finding new treatments which address them. If history is any indication, the answers most likely will be found through the conduct of clinical trials, and I sincerely would like to thank all past, present and future trial participants for paving the way.
Jaime Richardson, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP
Clinical Trial Navigator, Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute