RuthAnn Warman, with the support of her husband, Scott, is participating in clinical trials in addition to the usual standards of care to treat her breast cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2010 and had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments and medications—the usual standards of care.
The diagnosis of cancer is a moment a person doesn’t forget, and neither is the feeling of helplessness that may result. But the chance to fight back with everything medical science has to offer can inspire renewed hope and the opportunity to help shape a brighter future.
For hundreds of area patients each year, cancer treatment includes participating in a clinical trial, conducted with the support of the Mary Jean Cohen Cancer Research Endowment at Atrium Medical Center.
Clinical trials are studies in which people volunteer to take part in the testing of new drugs or procedures to determine their effectiveness.
“Clinical trials are a wonderful opportunity to get medications months or even years before they are released to the general population,” said medical oncologist Albert S. Malcolm, MD, chair of the Cancer Committee at Atrium. “Often these new weapons dramatically improve a person’s chances for overcoming cancer.”
Only certain drugs even make it to the trial stage. According to the American Cancer Society, these “drugs of the future” first have to be discovered or created, purified and tested in labs. For every 1,000 potential drugs tested, only one reaches the stage of being clinically tested.
Close to Home
“People sometimes think you have to go to a place like the Mayo Clinic to participate in a clinical trial,” said Sandy Fletcher, RN, coordinator at the Research Center located in The Compton Center at Atrium. “But patients with cancer can stay here in town, with their families and their support systems, and still receive cutting-edge treatment.”
Cancer-related clinical trials at Atrium are supported through the Dayton Clinical Oncology Program (DCOP), funded by the National Cancer Institute. Recently, DCOP presented Dr. Malcolm and the research staff with awards for their outstanding work.
“We’re proud that we have the option of clinical trials close to home. Right here, people can be among the first in the world to try a new drug or treatment,” Dr. Malcolm said.
Patients in clinical trials continue with any standard of care recommended for their cancer while participating to see if a new medication, treatment or procedure helps. Trials are also being performed to determine what works in cancer prevention.
Why Patients Say Yes to Clinical Trials
When discussing options for treating cancer, a doctor may say that because of the type of cancer a patient has, a clinical trial may be a possibility. Each interested patient then meets with a member of Atrium’s Research Center to learn more and to determine eligibility.
“We spend a lot of time with each patient, making sure they understand what the trial is all about,” said Sandy. “If a patient decides to participate, they find the research team is very involved.”
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Dr. Malcolm and Sandy both said that there are two reasons why a person accepts. “First, people want the newest drugs or treatments out there,” Dr. Malcolm said. “But also, people want to help make the future brighter for other cancer patients. Clinical trials are where we get our advancements. Quite simply, if we didn’t have clinical trials, we wouldn’t have new drugs.”
Helping Others with Cancer
RuthAnn Warman agrees. “I lost two close friends to cancer, at the same time I was fighting it,” she said. “At the end of the day, we human beings are rarely given a choice over our destinies. My husband and I decided to say “yes” to clinical trials because it might help me—and just as important, as difficult as this journey has been, I have comfort in knowing I’m helping others down the road.”
RuthAnn is participating in a few different clinical trials at Atrium. One is an exercise trial to determine if a home-based exercise program will reduce fatigue while receiving chemotherapy. Another trial tests a medication that may reduce skin reaction or redness caused by radiation.
She has high praise and genuine fondness for Sandy and the others in Atrium’s Research Center. “Sandy has been with me every step of the way,” she said. “By participating in a trial, I am watched closely, have more tests and follow-ups than usual, and I appreciate that.”
Nationally, about one or two percent of patients with cancer participate in clinical trials. “But around here, around 10 percent do,” reports Dr. Malcolm. “I think that speaks volumes about the people in this part of the country and about their determination to fight and their willingness to help others.”
Learn more about clinical trials and cancer treatments at Atrium.