In Addition To Hope

Clinical trials help physicians fight breast cancer, but barriers remain

About eight years ago, Mark A. Taylor, MD, asked some of his patients to participate in a clinical trial for a new breast cancer drug. This trial was one of three major trials being conducted simultaneously, and all three trials reported their findings within a week of each other. The women who received the new drug had a 50 percent reduction in the risk of their cancer recurring compared to those who did not.

“That’s a success story that I let hesitant patients know about,” says Taylor, who hopes that more women, especially those in minority populations, will agree to participate in clinical trials for which they are eligible.

“Until we have a cure for everybody’s cancer 100 percent of the time, there’s always room for improvement,” Taylor says. “And the way to do that is by gaining access to a trial.”

Patients who are eligible have the opportunity to be included in different kinds of clinical trials at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion. Some trials are focused on alleviating side effects from chemotherapy, while others focus on adding to standard therapy to improve on cure rates. Other clinical trials are concerned with what drug or combination of drugs might help women whose cancer has recurred.

Unfortunately, there are some barriers that Dr. Taylor’s patients have had to contend with before experiencing the potential benefits of a clinical trial. Some patients simply aren’t eligible. Others may be eligible but their insurance company won’t cover the cost. There is also a problem with perception, especially among minority groups.

“For some patients, there is still distrust about clinical trials,” Taylor says. “They have the idea that they will be treated like guinea pigs.”

 While Dr. Taylor understands these fears, he and his colleagues at Summit Cancer Care want to educate patients from all walks of life on the facts about clinical trials. Most trials are an addition to the same high level of care that non-participating patients receive, and clinical trial patients also have more caregivers assigned to their case.

Even patients who are in stage 4 of their cancer may not be able to get past the list of possible side effects for certain trials.

“If a heart attack is a possible side effect, a patient might not be able to see that a 1 percent chance of a heart attack is better than the 100 percent chance of progressive cancer,” Taylor says.

Dr. Taylor sees the small amount of participation in clinical trials among minority women as a missed opportunity for both the physician and the patient.

“There are differences among the races,” Taylor says. “If there was a difference, for example, in the metabolism of a drug among different populations, we would want an adequate number of the minority races represented. In this way, we can pick up on any safety or effectiveness signal and individualize the treatment for each patient.”

St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Center for Clinical Research also conducts clinical trials on several conditions such as digestive disease, diabetes, and immune disorders. To learn more about the clinical trials at the Center for Clinical Research, call 912-819-6194 or visit
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