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Weighing the benefits and risks of a clinical trial

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

A Delaware group is training peer counselors to help patients weigh the benefits and risks of participating in medical research. Advertisements for clinical trials are everywhere, it seems, on the subway ride to work and in the back of those commuter newspapers.

Given all those opportunities, how do patients decide if testing an experimental medicine and joining a clinical are good next steps.

Cathy Holloway is with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Her group is training counselors to given a listening ear and education.

Holloway: There’s a lot of paperwork. We want the patient to know that they can withdraw from that trial at any time. We want them to know what the benefits might be. We want them to better understand any risks they might take, so they understand totally what they’ve been offered so they can make the right decision for them.

Holloway says the coalition’s counselors all have first-hand experience as a medical research participant but their role is not to promote clinical trials. Still Holloway says she’s hoping overall enrollment will increase. She says medical research is the only way to move toward better treatment options.

Experts say about 4 percent of adults diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. join a clinical trial.

Many groups are helping patients learn more about medical research.

The Livestrong cancer-patient advocacy network provides a matching service. Melissa Sileo says Livestrong does more than hand over a long list of available trials.

Sileo: They will be matched to specific clinical trials based on their cancer treatment, their cancer stages, other treatments they’ve already received, their cancer type. Really as much information as they know and/or are willing to share with us.

Sileo says most cancer trials today are comparisons of standard treatments versus experimental approaches. It is very rare for a cancer trial to include a placebo, and Sileo says if so, patients are advised of that possibility.

A clinical trial is another treatment option, Sileo says, and it comes with some of the same possibilities for side effects and ineffectiveness as current medications.

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