How does a clinical trial benefit me?
Every licensed drug in the world has been through a clinical trial - from ibuprofen to morphine. But why do drugs need to go through such a stringent testing process and what benefit does a clinical trial have for a breast cancer patient?
The first clinical trial took place in 1747 when physician James Lind discovered that treating sailors with citrus fruits cured scurvy. The notion of testing patients under controlled conditions to find a new treatment option is still the basis of a clinical trial today.
Pallavi Wyawahare is a clinical trial coordinator at Auckland DHB. As Pallavi explains, clinical trials are vital in deciding whether new breast cancer drugs, treatments and diagnostics are effective, as well as checking for dangerous side effects.
Pallavi says: “clinical trials give hope, they give patients the ability to trial a drug which may not be approved or funded yet for wider use. By taking part in a clinical trial you are not only giving yourself a chance, but you are helping others, who may benefit massively from the drug in the future.”
As a coordinator, Pallavi sets up the trial and decides on the feasibility and budget. Pallavi also has to make sure registration approval is met, this includes ethical consideration and approval, and she then opens the trial for recruitment.
But who can enrol in a clinical trial? The answer is simple: anyone who is eligible. This means anyone who meets the specific trial criteria can take part. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your oncologist about your eligibility for a clinical trial, it’s important to discuss all treatment options on diagnosis. For more information, we have a clinical trials database on our BCFNZ website which we keep regularly updated and is simple to navigate.
Many patients ask how long a clinical trial may take. This depends on the individual trial and the protocol for that trial, but, it could be a while. Pallavi explains that taking part in a clinical trial is a big commitment. She suggests that you take your time to read and discuss with your family and medical team before making a decision.
In a perfect world, every patient would get a standard treatment option and a clinical trial option. However, at the moment only 2% of cancer patients are put on trials here in New Zealand, hopefully, this will increase to 15% in the next ten years. Pallavi would love to see more clinical trials in New Zealand – she says that nationally there is a movement towards this end goal and that we must communicate the importance of clinical trials. At BCFNZ we recognise the importance of clinical trials and via our grant programme, we help to fund trials as well as coordinator training.
Although breast cancer survival is increasing, there are still too many women dying and it is vital to find new, effective and safe treatment options. Clinical trials offer the ability for a patient to have hope as well as to advance medicine for all.