Doctor shares Q&A for cancer patients seeking experimental treatments
The basic problem researchers seek to overcome in finding a cure for cancer is the body’s general inability to fight the disease. Immune systems can do very little to penetrate the robust molecular shield found in tumors.
But those shields may no longer be so impenetrable, thanks to a new experimental drug called BMS-936558, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Studies show it produces significant shrinkage when used in fighting specific forms of lung, skin and kidney cancers.
“Clinical trials with new drugs like BMS-936558 offer hope for patients battling advanced cancers and those that are difficult to treat,” says physician Stephen Garrett Marcus, a senior biotechnology research executive, and author of a comprehensive new reference book, Complications of Cancer (www.complicationsofcancer.com).
“While experimental treatments are not the best option for everyone with cancer, they can be a very good one for people for whom current treatments offer poor outcomes. And, in the greater scheme of things, trial participants are making an important contribution to others with the disease. While they may not be cured, their involvement can significantly move research forward.”
Marcus shares tips for patients and family members interested in investigating, and perhaps enrolling in, a clinical trial.
• How can a person with cancer rapidly identify promising clinical trials? The National Institute of Health’s website (www.clinicaltrials.gov) maintains the most comprehensive registry of cancer clinical trials. The site includes information regarding significant clinical trials in progress. Each listing features the name of the clinical trial, the purpose of the study, the criteria that make a person eligible to participate, the study locations and contact information.
• How does a person enroll in an experimental program? When a good fit in a program is identified, a physician’s referral will help expedite an evaluation. If necessary, self-referral can be accomplished by calling the medical center directly and making an appointment to see the physician running clinical trials. Details for making an appointment can be found on the NIH’s website.
• What preparations can be made prior to being seen at the medical center? A complete package of information that gives a clear story of a person’s medical illness can be very useful and should be brought to the clinic at the time of the first appointment. The center at which a person is evaluated for experimental treatment may give a person a checklist of what to bring to the appointment. This may include a letter from the person’s physician; surgical, pathology and radiology reports; and other test results. Having all relevant information organized for the first visit streamlines the process for a comprehensive evaluation, and decisions regarding the best treatment option can be made more quickly.
• How does a person make a decision about whether or not to enter a clinical trial? This decision is made with a thorough understanding of standard treatments and experimental options. Information about these standard and experimental treatments can be provided by the physicians and other caregivers; details are also included in Complications of Cancer.
• Who pays for the experimental medication? The experimental treatment itself should generally be free. Almost all true experimental treatment programs will pay for the experimental medication. Legitimate research almost never asks for money from subjects. Be very wary of treatments advertising high-cost, “cash only” payments; experimental treatment for a very high price is usually not associated with legitimate research.
Stephen Garrett Marcus, M.D. received his medical degree from New York Medical College and completed a medical oncology fellowship at the University of California in San Francisco. As a senior research executive in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry since 1985, he played a lead role in developing Betaseron as the first effective treatment of multiple sclerosis, as well as several new cancer treatments. Marcus is the president and CEO of a biotechnology company developing new treatments for cancer and its life-threatening complications. He is the author of “Complications of Cancer” (www.complicationsofcancer.com), a book written for everyone about serious complications of common cancers and “When Life is in Jeopardy”, a book providing comprehensive information about common life-threatening illnesses, injuries and complications.