Clinical Trials: Enhancing Cancer Care

May 24, 2016 8:00 AM

Clinical studies push health care forward, creating new cancer therapies and refining existing ones. An R.N. encourages cancer patients to consider participating.

Where would we be without medical advances?

Think about medical care 100 years ago. There’s been an explosion in vaccine development, antibiotics, surgical techniques, medical devices and discovery of medications to treat and control disease. You can look at any medical specialty and see the advances that have been made.

Advancements in cancer treatment come about through clinical research, which is how we move forward in health care. Through research, we can discover what works, and what doesn’t. It saves and improves lives.

Clinical trials to advance cancer care

May is National Cancer Research Month, meant to recognize high-quality and innovative research in the field.

Research is how we improve outcomes. It’s how we learned that a less-invasive surgery with fewer risks and side effects can be as effective as a more radical surgery. It’s how we learned that identifying proteins and mutations in a patient’s tumor can tell us if he or she will benefit from a targeted therapy.

But fewer than 5 percent of adult cancer patients participate in clinical studies, even though progress can’t be made without these studies.

If you are a patient yourself, think about participating in research. If you are a caregiver or family member, offer to help your loved one find out more about clinical trials. There are hundreds of studies open at the University of Michigan alone, including studies for healthy volunteers.

The milestones that have been made over the past 40 years in cancer care are due to research and patients’ willingness to participate. Take LeElla, a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer at U-M. Through a clinical study, she was able to preserve her fertility and have a healthy baby boy after cancer treatment, possibly paving the way for future patients to see the same success.

Forty years of cancer care

Now that you know the importance of clinical studies, here are just a few of the advancements that have been made over the past four decades through such research:

  • The five-year survival rate for all childhood cancer combined is almost 85 percent, compared to 62 percent in 1975.

  • Five-year survival for adults is now 68 percent compared to 50 percent in 1975.

  • Approval of cancer vaccines : Vaccines are now used in the prevention and treatment of certain cancers.

  • Targeted therapies: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved approximately 50 molecularly targeted therapies including Herceptin, Avastin and Gleevec.

  • Improvement in radiation therapy techniques and modes of delivery to improve outcomes and decrease side effects.

  • Combined chemotherapy is now the standard of care for many types of cancer. It has increased survival and cure rates for many types of cancer.

  • Improvements in side effect management such as nausea, vomiting and mouth sores.

Progress in quality cancer care can be accomplished on many fronts: prevention, screening and improving quality of life by developing less toxic and invasive treatments.