Cancer patients urged to ask about drug trials

Participation in trials 'a no-brainer'
  • Deborah Condon

The number of cancer patients taking part in cancer drug trials should be doubled from its current 3% to 6%, Cancer Trials Ireland has said.

It is calling on the Government to support this call and is also urging patients to ask their doctor about drug trials that may benefit them.

Cancer Trials Ireland is responsible for coordinating cancer trials in this country. Since its establishment in 1996, over 15,000 people have participated in more than 350 cancer trials.

Cancer trials can provide patients with free access to promising new treatments, which is some cases, can only be accessed through such a trial. These treatments have the potential to improve the quality of lives of patients, and even extend their lives.

Currently, around 650 people with cancer join a drug trial every year in Ireland, however Cancer Trials Ireland would like this figure to double to 1,300 each year.

In order to highlight this, Cancer Trials Ireland has launched its ‘Just Ask Your Doctor!' campaign, which aims to encourage cancer patients to ask their doctor if there is a relevant cancer trial that they can join which could enhance their treatment options.

According to consultant oncologist at Beaumont Hospital and clinical lead with Cancer Trials Ireland, Prof Bryan Hennessy, ‘cancer trial participation is a no-brainer'.

"Cancer trials find treatments that stop people dying from cancer, they enable patients to get treatments not available by other means and they save the HSE more than €6 million annually in cancer medication costs.

"With a more stable economic outlook and one in three of us affected by cancer in Ireland, it is time for the Government to increase its commitment in Budget 2018 to cancer trials research by at least €2.5 million annually," he commented.

Currently in Ireland, there are almost 100 cancer trials recruiting patients, while a further 50 trials are now underway having completed their recruitment phase. There are up to 6,000 patients involved in all of these trials.

Ongoing trials include 24 trials on paediatric cancer, 17 trials on breast cancer and six trials on lung cancer.

Cancer Trials Ireland noted that we lag behind our European counterparts in this area. For example, Denmark has a similar population to Ireland but conducts more than four times as many clinical trials.

"Cancer Trials Ireland works with the foremost oncologists and research specialists across the country who are highly experienced and skilled in trials research. Combined with the commitment of those participating in our trials, and Brexit, we have a tremendous opportunity to step up our cancer trials capability and make a greater contribution to the global pursuit of the answers to cancer," commented Eibhlin Mulroe, CEO of Cancer Trials Ireland.

She called on patients to ask their doctors about cancer trials and to visit the Cancer Trials Ireland website here to access a full listing of trials that are currently underway here.

"Participation is hugely important," Ms Mulroe added.

Speaking about her participation in a cancer trial, author and journalist, Emily Hourican, said her world ‘was turned upside down' when she was diagnosed with HPV-induced cancer of the tongue base.

"I was terrified and miserable, but felt lucky in that I was eligible for a trial that would give me access to a more targeted form of treatment than standard chemotherapy. Seven weeks of treatment, while very difficult personally and for my family, saw me free of cancer. For that, I will always be grateful, and consider myself incredibly lucky.

"I feel that being on the trial made a difference to me in terms of how I approached treatment - knowing that my hard times might one day be of benefit to someone else was something that kept me going and gave me a focus beyond the immediate misery of my situation," she explained.

She said that she would encourage anyone diagnosed with cancer to ask about and participate in a trial, if eligible to do so.

The incidence of cancer continues to increase in Ireland. In 2003, there were almost 15,400 cases of the disease. By 2013, this had increased to more than 20,300. However, more people are now surviving cancer and this is partly because of improved medications, which can only be made available as a result of cancer trials.

The ‘Just Ask Your Doctor!' campaign is fully supported by the Irish Cancer Society. According to its head of research, Dr Robert O'Connor, trials have a ‘vital role in the cancer research process'.

"All cancer treatments used today were once put through a trial involving patients. The fact that more than one in two Irish cancer patients diagnosed today will be cured of their disease is as a direct result of the learnings acquired from generations of people taking part in cancer research, and our dedicated research community working tirelessly together to overcome cancer. All future advances will only be possible through patients participating in new studies and further support for cancer researchers," he commented.

For more information on Cancer Trials Ireland, click here

If you are concerned about cancer, you can call the Irish Cancer Society's Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700. It is open form 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.



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