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Busting clinical trial myths

To coincide with the relaunch of the Victorian Cancer Trials Link, we spoke to Western Health’s Head of Cancer Services Dr Dishan (Dish) Herath for a clearer understanding of what to expect when participating in a clinical trial.

There are some common myths and misconceptions out there about clinical trials, some of which you may have already heard yourself.

One of the most common misconceptions Dish has heard from patients is the concern that they’ll be treated like a “guinea pig” during a clinical trial and won’t benefit from the treatment.

“Every treatment we give, the ethical basis is that there has to be some possibility the patient’s going to benefit from it,” Dish says. “We certainly wouldn’t be giving a treatment that has no chance of helping a patient.”

It’s also important to note there are strict guidelines in place for clinical trials, ensuring participants are treated fairly and ethically. Every clinical trial also has an informed consent process, which includes the right to leave the trial at any time.

“It’s not like we’re trying to sell them a used car. We actually have to be really clear about the risks and benefits,” Dish says. “A consent form is not like signing a contract… They can still withdraw their consent in the future; they aren’t locked in just because they’ve put a signature on a document.”

Another myth Dish has heard is that taking part in a trial means you won’t get the best possible treatment. In reality, many trial participants receive standard of care treatment plus something else on top of that.

“There’s good evidence that as an overall cohort, patients who go on clinical trials have better outcomes than patients who are not on clinical trials. So, we think it’s in the best interests of our patients,” Dish says.

“There are extra people monitoring their progress; research nurses, trials fellows, doctors. So they have more people keeping an eye on them than the standard patient, and that’s certainly beneficial.”

Finally, Dish has heard the misconception that clinical trials can be seen as a “last resort” option for cancer treatment. This is not true; optimal cancer care guidelines recommend that people be given the opportunity to participate in cancer research at any stage of their cancer experience (not just when all other options have been tried).

There’s also benefits of participating in a clinical trial other than the treatment itself.

“Patients get the opportunity to have hope,” Dish says. “It's absolutely true that many patients who are participating in clinical trials are doing so altruistically. I mean they're hopeful that it will help them, but they're also motivated to help other patients and others in the future.”

Dish encourages any Victorians considering taking part in a clinical trial to speak to their treatment team.

“It’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions. It’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions more than once, on subsequent consultations, and it’s perfectly okay to seek out reliable sources of information online, and Cancer Council Victoria is a good example of where you can start.”

Explore other myths, and learn more about cancer clinical trials in Victoria, through the Victorian Cancer Trials Link website.

Cancer Connect

Our Cancer Connect program provides support for people considering participating in a clinical trial by connecting them with a trained volunteer who's had a similar experience.

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