At what point should advanced non-melanoma skin cancer patients consider participating in a clinical trial? Dr. Anna Pavlick discusses the benefits of trial participation and how the eligibility process works.
Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here.
Where do clinical trials fit into the treatment plan?
You know, for me clinical trials are something that patients need to see as an opportunity.
It should always be the first question that a patient should say, “Hey doc, what about a clinical trial?” Clinical trials provide patients with such great resources to either get a standard therapy with something extra, or to look at a novel way of using a known therapy. I think it’s something that every patient should ask their physicians about – and not everybody is eligible, or should go on a clinical trial – but it’s certainly worth asking, “Is there a clinical trial that I could participate in?”
So, who might be eligible? What’s the criteria?
Well, each trial has different criteria. So, depending on the trials that are available at the institution where you’re being seen – for example, if you have, let’s say, basal cell cancer – the clinical trial may be looking at two immunotherapies as opposed to one immunotherapy. So when we do a clinical trial, there are what we call inclusion and exclusion criteria, and those are pre-determined criteria that you have to check those boxes to make sure those patients fit that particular study.
So it’s not a random, “You can’t participate because you’re wearing a purple shirt today.” It is, “You have basal cell, but you have never had this drug that the study says you have to have been treated with this drug in order to go on to this study.” So you can’t jump from A to Z. You have to go from A to B to get to C. So, it really is just checking the boxes, making sure that patients fit whatever the deemed criteria are, and make sure they also don’t fall into the exclusion criteria.
You know, trials will also say, “If you have an unstable medical condition –,” you know if I have a patient who’s telling me that they’re in and out of the E.R. with chest pain because the doc thinks that they have unstable angina and may need a stint – well, that’s not a patient that you want to put on a clinical trial at that point in time. Not to say that it can’t be re-explored at a different point, but people with active other medical issues just add to the complexity of being able to determine what are the side effects, and what are the not – what’s related to study drug, and what’s related to underlying problem?