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HMSA Member News > Member NewsWinter 2009 IS Magazine

Cancer Clinical Trials

Helping to advance cancer care.

By Myra Williams, Vice President, Health Services Division, HMSA

In Egypt around 1600 B.C., descriptions of eight tumors or ulcers of the breast were inscribed on papyrus. The descriptions included how the tumors were treated using a tool called “the fire drill.” This is the oldest known mention of cancer ever found.

Today, people with cancer can benefit from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These methods, unlike the fire drill, can often result in the successful treatment of cancer. But there is still a lot to improve on and discover about cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. It’s a task that medical researchers cannot do alone.

Cancer clinical trials are research studies where ordinary people can help doctors find ways to improve the quality of cancer care. These trials are available in Hawai‘i through the Cancer Research Center of Hawai‘i (CRCH), a research unit of the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

When you participate in a cancer clinical trial, you choose to take a more active role in your own health care, gain access to new research and treatments before they become widely available, and help society in its long-range mission to eradicate cancer.

Some patients with cancer will initially have reservations about participating in a clinical trial. That’s why it’s important to ask questions. Jonathan Cho, M.D., principal investigator of the Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program at CRCH, sometimes has several discussions with a patient to explain what might be involved.

When Leimomi Golis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, she was given the option of participating in a cancer clinical trial. She went home and searched online for more information. “I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to try it, and if it works – great,” says Golis. “Besides, if someone doesn’t participate, you wouldn’t know if this alternative treatment can be successful. They need patients who are willing to take part.”

Once you agree to participate in a cancer clinical trial, certain procedures and strict scientific and ethical guidelines are established to protect participants. They must go through a process called informed consent, where details on the purpose of the study, procedures involved, and possible risks and benefits are stated. Participants are then asked to sign a form acknowledging their understanding of the information. They can leave the study at any time.

Throughout the trial, participants are monitored closely. “In clinical trials, we have protocol that has to be followed in terms of testing, dose modification, and change of treatment. And all of our charts are accessible for audit,” says Cho.

All federally funded trials or trials that evaluate a new drug or medical device are subject to the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and an Institutional Review Board (IRB). They ensure that the study is conducted fairly and that participants are not likely to be harmed. The IRB can stop a clinical trial if the researcher is not following protocol or if the trial appears to unexpectedly harm participants.

Each study follows different guidelines and eligibility criteria, and there are many types of cancer clinical trials. If you are diagnosed with cancer or to find out more about clinical trials, call the National Cancer Institute at 1 (800) 422-6237.

Join the movement to help find ways to battle cancer. We’ve come a long way, but cancer remains a serious health threat.

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