Cancer patients urged to ask about Victorian clinical trials

Tuesday 19 May, 2015

Thousands of cancer patients who could benefit from clinical trials are missing out with Cancer Council Victoria data showing state participation levels are stagnating.

Cancer Council Victoria data shows trial participation levels in the state have flatlined for two decades; languishing at 6-7 per cent since 1990. In comparison, cancer patient participation in clinical trials in the United Kingdom has soared over the past decade from 4 per cent to 17 per cent1.

Proportion of cancer patients entering a clinical trial

Cancer Council Victoria's Clinical Network Deputy Chair Orla McNally said unless there was a significant and concerted effort to raise awareness amongst health providers and patients it was difficult to see how Victoria's 2020 target2 of 15 per cent participation could be reached.

"Clinical trials are an essential step in transforming laboratory research findings into better health care for cancer patients," Associate Professor McNally said. "Clinical trials determine what works best, as well as what doesn't. They can also provide patients with access to drugs that are effective but aren't yet approved for use in Australia, or which are too costly. We also know that patients enrolled in clinical trials tend to have better outcomes just by participating in the trial."

Today, on International Clinical Trials Day, Cancer Council is urging patients to talk to their treating doctor about clinical trials.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said some of the best clinical trial work in the world was being done in Victoria yet many patients are unaware they can take part in a clinical trial, or confused about what it involves or how it works.

"Cancer research is a vital part of health care. Many people with cancer are now living longer with a better quality of life due to clinical trials. That's why we want to make sure all Victorian cancer patients are well informed on clinical trials so they are afforded the same opportunity to take part."

Common clinical trial myths

Myth 1: "If I take part in a trial, I won't get the best treatment available."
Fact: You will receive at least the same quality of care you would expect if you weren't on a trial. Generally, trial participants receive standard care (the best known treatment) or a new treatment that doctors believe is better than the standard treatment.

Myth 2: "There's no point taking part in a trial as I won't benefit."
Fact: There are advantages to being involved in a clinical trial like accessing programs, medicines or treatments that aren't widely available. However, joining a study doesn't always mean you will be better off than before or compared to other people in a similar situation. Either way you'll be informed of all possible risks and benefits before making a decision.

Myth 3: "Clinical trials are risky."
Fact: Researchers must follow strict guidelines to ensure studies are as safe as possible for everyone involved, and all studies must be approved by specially appointed research and ethics committees.

Myth 4: "Clinical trials are only available at hospitals in capital cities."
Fact: Many rural and regional hospitals have an active clinical research program. Talk to your treating team to get involved.

Since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (an incurable blood cancer) David Briggs has signed up to several clinical trials.

"I'm a great believer in doing trials - partly for the potential benefits to me, and partly because of the benefits that flow to cancer research," Mr Briggs said.

"As a patient you are in a unique position to contribute to knowledge and understanding of the disease by taking part in a trial. They also allow you to take greater control of your treatment, and provide access to other treating doctors and second medical opinions. That's important when there is considerable uncertainty as to the best approach to treating a disease like myeloma. "

Mr Harper said clinical trials would only become more important as cancer diagnosis rates in Victoria continued to rise.

For more information call Cancer Council's information and support line 13 11 20 or talk to your treating team.

Search for a trial

2. In 2008, the Victorian Government set a target of increasing participation in clinical trials to 9 per cent by 2012 and 15 per cent by 2020 under its Victorian Action Plan 2008-2011. Full document here:$FILE/vcactionplan.pdf