Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial

Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Andrew Armstrong, director of prostate cancer research at the Duke Cancer Institute, provides expert advice on what questions prostate cancer patients should ask when considering participation in a clinical trial. 

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are some key questions that patients should ask their healthcare team before even participating in a clinical trial?  

Dr. Armstrong:

I think number one is what are the alternatives that I would have if I did not participate in the clinical trial? What are the standard of care therapies? And prostate cancer now has a vast menu. There is two different types of chemotherapy. There are two different types of target radiotherapy, that’s Pluvicto and radium. There’s immunotherapy, with Sipuleucel-T and other immune therapies. There are multiple hormonal drugs. There are precision medicines, like I mentioned, for men with certain hereditary types of prostate cancer. So, it’s important to hear what the standard of care is, and many patients don’t necessarily even hear that. 

And then based on what patients have already seen and what’s the expectation? Risks and benefits around those. 

And then on top of that, research can complement that or either replace or come after those standard of care approaches. Certainly if a patient has exhausted the standard of care approaches, a trial can offer real benefits. 

It’s important to ask about risks. What have other patients experienced going into that study? What kind of toxicities, good or bad? What other – what’s the evidence that it has helped people before? If it’s never been studied in people, the evidence might just come from the laboratory. But hearing about why is this so promising, why have you chosen to invest so much time and energy in this trial, is a good question. 

And then if you’re hearing about a trial and you’re making a decision to travel, sometimes asking questions about whether the trial will cover your lodging or transportation, gas money, airport travel. Some trials do do that. 

You can also look on clinicaltrial.gov for sites that are near you. So, many centers open the same trial in a different state, so you can look on that website to see if there’s a trial near you for what you’re looking for.  

How Can Prostate Cancer Patients Access Clinical Trials?

How Can Prostate Cancer Patients Access Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Andrew Armstrong shares trusted resources for accessing information about prostate cancer clinical trials and reviews common barriers to participation.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

See More From Prostate Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials?

Why Should Prostate Cancer Patients Be Empowered

Why Should Prostate Cancer Patients Be Empowered?

Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial

Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Yes, yes. How can patients find out about a trial that might be right for them? 

Dr. Armstrong:

There’s several sources. One is through their doctor. You know, their doctor can be their navigator. They will be connected either within a cancer center or be connected to a cancer center that’s in their region. So, getting a referral to a cancer center can be that open door to hearing what trials a big cancer center might offer. 

If patients are willing to travel longer distances, there are websites like clinicaltrials.gov where patients can search and find a trial, find a coordinator, find a principal investigator or doctor, contact them, and then either drive or fly to that site to access that trial. Not every patient has that means. 

But that’s certainly a resource that many patients and their family members can use to seek out those trials. And I certainly have patients that have found me in that way. 

But it’s probably more common for patients to come to you through a referral from their doctor because many sites in the community don’t have access to those clinical trials, but they know who does.  

Katherine Banwell:

What are some common barriers to accessing clinical trials? 

Dr. Armstrong:

The most important one is probably transportation. Some trials are close by, and some trials are very far away, and resources can be a major barrier. The cost of transportation, of having to be near a trial site, can be a major barrier. We wish we had all of the trials everywhere, but that’s not possible. Some trials are available at Duke, but are not available for example in Baltimore or Boston or California, and vice versa.  

Each academic institution may have their own trials. There are going to be some big trials that are available everywhere. These are like global Phase III studies. And really just talking to the physician, maybe getting a second opinion about which trial may be right for you in a certain circumstance is really part of the shared decision-making process. 

So, travel, socioeconomic status, cost concerns, those are barriers. But most clinical trials will pay for the experimental drugs. They will not charge you more money to participate in the study. And most insurance companies will pay for your participation in that trial, so that should not be a major barrier, but transportation can be. So, sometimes patients will find trials near a loved one or a family member so they can stay with them during the trial participation. 

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials?

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer expert Dr. Andrew Armstrong explains how prostate cancer clinical trials work and discusses why patients should feel confident exploring this option at any stage of their cancer journey.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial

Key Questions for Prostate Cancer Patients to Ask Before Joining a Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

At what point should a prostate cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. If you look at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, NCCN guidelines, you’ll see that clinical trials should be discussed along all parts of the journey. 

And that’s because clinical trials often can change how we think about cancer, how we treat cancer, can improve cure rates, can improve survival. Most of our drugs and treatments that have been successful in all cancer have been the result of clinical trials. 

And it’s not always appropriate, though. We have very many treatments that can cure patients, and we don’t want to interfere with that, but sometimes a clinical trial can layer on top of that cure rate. 

But many patients, their cancer becomes resistant to proven therapies. That’s certainly an area where clinical trials can make a big difference, either to put off chemotherapy or more toxic therapies, or in patients who have exhausted proven therapies. That’s certainly appropriate. 

But sometimes clinical trials do not involve placebos. They involve combination therapies, they involve layering on top several approaches to try to improve the survival on top of standard of care.  

And so as a director of a research program, we have all sorts of trials. They come in Phase I, Phase II, Phase III. Really only the Phase IIIs involve placebo controlled or controlled trials. Phase II tend to be early studies, where everybody gets a therapy and it’s preliminary to determine efficacy. Phase I is really trying to determine the safety and dosing of an experimental drug. But patients can benefit across the spectrum. 

So, it’s important, particularly if you have advanced disease, to go to a site, like a comprehensive cancer center, for a second opinion to see if there is alternatives to what you might get in the community.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant to participate in a trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Participation in a trial involves shared decision-making, just like being diagnosed, embarking on initial treatment, even embarking on standard of care treatment. Everything is shared decision-making in terms of risks and benefits.  

Sometimes a trial is not in a patient’s best interest, and it’s important for a physician to be upright about that and up front about the risks of a trial. 

I think when patients have exhausted proven therapies, it’s quite appropriate to talk about therapies that might be in the research pipeline that are showing some promise, that have demonstrated at least success in the laboratory or in small numbers of patients coming before.  

For example, in 2022, a brand-new drug just got approved called Pluvicto, or PSMA lutetium. This is a new smart bomb for prostate cancer. Just last year it was a research drug, but this year it’s successful and being used in the clinic. All those hormone drugs I mentioned earlier, those were research drugs five years ago. So, we don’t make advanced, we don’t extend lives without participating in research. We’re not happy with the way things are, we want them to be better. 

And the only way to make them better is by studying them. And not all of these trials are successful, unfortunately, but many are, and that’s why we are seeing men live longer and have better survivorship nowadays.