texas oncology more breakthroughs. more victories
Request an Appointment

Navigating Hope: Understanding the Importance of Clinical Trials in Cancer Care

May 20, 2024

May 20 is an important day in the advancement of medical science – Clinical Trials Day. It’s a time to honor the tireless efforts of researchers, patients, and healthcare professionals who push the boundaries of knowledge in pursuit of better treatments and cures.

When it comes to cancer research, clinical trials provide a structured and rigorous framework for testing new treatments, paving the way for innovative therapies that offer hope to patients who may have limited treatment options. The invaluable data gathered can help researchers unravel the complexities of cancer and identify targets for intervention, ultimately driving forward potential breakthroughs that can save lives and improve patient outcomes.

Scott Paulson, M.D., medical director of research at Texas Oncology, and co-chair of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Research committee with Sarah Cannon Research Institute, delves into the intricacies and importance of clinical trials, barriers to accruing more patients to clinical trials, and how Texas Oncology is positioned to be a leader in this important area.

How do you explain the importance and benefit of clinical trials to a patient or family member in terms they understand?

Cancer treatment is overwhelming. Clinical trials use consent forms with extensive information that we believe is critical for patients to understand what is being tested. Will they receive a placebo? Are there procedures that could cause harm? Are there alternatives? What is being tested and why am I doing it? Informed consent is critical to the process. In all circumstances, I need to feel confident that trial participation offers a better option for the patient than an available standard of care.

Our clinicians prioritize patient education and empowerment throughout the research process. By providing comprehensive information about clinical trials, potential benefits, and possible risks, patients can make informed decisions about their participation. This also fosters trust between patients and their doctor, creating a supportive environment conducive to research advancement.

Why should cancer patients care about clinical trials?

Participating in clinical trials can provide access to cutting-edge treatments that may not yet be available through standard options. This allows patients access to innovative therapies that could potentially be more effective. Participating in clinical trials can provide patients with the potential for personal benefit including improved outcomes, prolonged survival, and an enhanced quality of life, which may surpass the benefits offered by standard treatments.

Additionally, clinical trial participants receive enhanced monitoring and care from experienced healthcare professionals, ensuring a higher level of attention and support. By taking part in these trials, patients can contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the field of cancer research. Their involvement helps develop more effective treatments and improved outcomes for future patients.

What is the biggest barrier to accruing more patients to clinical trials?

The main barrier is lack of an available trial close to the patient’s home, leading to additional challenges such as time commitments and reluctance to travel.

Other contributing factors include excessively strict eligibility criteria, which can make trial participation comparable to gaining entry into an exclusive club. Many drug trials exclude willing participants by accepting only the healthiest of patients. Regrettably, this practice has resulted in the exclusion of many segments of the population leading to a lack of diversity and difficulty in applying findings to real world patients. Although efforts are now being made to address this issue, it has taken a considerable amount of time to make progress.

Why is Texas Oncology uniquely positioned to be a leader in this critical research area?

Currently, we have a network of over 280 locations throughout Texas, 530 cancer physicians, and geographic coverage that includes both concentrated urban centers as well as remote rural regions.

We recently entered a joint venture with US Oncology Research and the Sarah Cannon Research Network to create the Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI). SCRI includes over 1,300 physicians, holds an international presence, and is capable of managing research studies in all phases of development. With this collaboration, we believe we can bring the newest oncology innovations directly to our patients, wherever they live, providing access to cutting-edge treatments and contributing to advancing medical knowledge.

What is being done within clinical trials to help represent diverse populations better and how is Texas Oncology leading that charge?

Historically there has been lower participation in many communities due to access and mistrust concerns. To address this issue, Texas Oncology has made efforts to prioritize patient-centered care and shared decision-making. We believe in empowering patients to make decisions regarding their own care. We recognize that patients are experts in their own lives and their perspective is central to their care. By involving patients and engaging them in discussions about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of research participation, we can address concerns and build trust.

In the consent process we make sure the participants fully understand the nature of the study, its potential risks and benefits, and their right to voluntarily participate or withdraw. We allow the opportunity to ask questions, clarify doubts, and make an informed decision about their participation.

We also need results that reflect real American cancer patients, and to do this, we are helping to revise clinical trial protocols to ensure they include a broader range of participants. By embracing diversity, we strive to ensure that clinical trial results are applicable to a broad range of patients, leading to more inclusive and effective cancer treatments.

It is incumbent on oncology practices to deliver these critically important initiatives to patients where they live and work, rather than expecting patients to uproot their lives to come to us.

Texas Oncology is in a better position than most to do this given our size and mission to deliver quality cancer care close to home.

To learn more about participating in a clinical trial and the innovative research taking place at Texas Oncology locations across the state, visit TexasOncology.com/clinical-trials.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.