Dr. Adrienne Waks, a breast cancer expert, discusses why and when patients should consider participating in a clinical trial.
Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.
Why should a breast cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial?
It’s a great question. I always tell patients and, of course, I work at Dana Farber, so we participate and I come to this question with a bias and a huge enormous amount of belief in the importance and the value of clinical research, but I honestly would encourage all patients to encourage clinical trials at all points in their breast cancer care. I think that often patients think that clinical trials are something that your doctor will bring up when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of cancer treatment options.
You know, you’ve exhausted everything that’s good and now we’re going to give you treatments that were given to the mice last week or something like that. But that could not be further from the truth. At every stage of breast cancer treatment whether you have a stage I breast cancer or you have a metastatic breast cancer, all of the current standards for how we treat patients and all of the data that we have to tell us you should use those treatments because they’re beneficial, all of those standards and those data come from patients who came before you who participated in clinical trials. Those were not patients who were at the very last stage of their cancer treatment.
They were patients who could have been newly diagnosed with a Stage I breast cancer, newly diagnosed with metastatic breast or something like that. We change the standards of how we treat patients at all stages by running clinical trials.
In breast cancer, we have such effective treatments that it’s virtually unheard of that we would compare something to nothing. There’s almost never a time in breast cancer treatment when it’s ethical to offer nothing as a therapy, so most of our clinical trials are not saying you might get a placebo sugar pill and that’s it. It’s saying either you’ll get Arm A, which is this agent or you’ll get A plus B which is the standard plus something else. So, it’s not like by participating in a clinical trial you’re omitting standard therapy. What we’re generally trying to do is give you standard therapy and something better or replacing a part of standard therapy with something we think is going to do better.
Every time we design and implement a clinical trial, we’re obviously doing so because we hope that we can improve upon the current standard. So, there certainly isn’t a trial for everybody at every stage in their treatment course, and it’s absolutely fine if there’s no trial ongoing that’s the right fit for you, but I think it’s always a good question to ask. You know, is there a trial I should consider here?