People with cancer are being encouraged to ask their doctor if there is a relevant cancer trial that they could join to increase their treatment options.
The Just Ask Your Doctor! Campaign has been launched by Cancer Trials Ireland, which is responsible for coordinating all cancer trials in this country. Since its establishment in 1996, over 15,000 people have participated in more than 350 cancer trials.
Around 100 cancer trials are currently recruiting people living with cancer in 16 hospitals nationwide.
Cancer trials can provide patients with free access to promising new treatments, which in 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.
As part of this new campaign, Cancer Trials Ireland carried out a survey of people living with cancer, which aimed to identify the factors that influence people to take part in trials.
The survey found that overall, most cancer patients are open to taking part in a trial, and most who are offered the opportunity go on to accept it.
When asked why they would take part, 82% said to help them feel better or live longer, while 81% said they would want to advance research and help future cancer patients.
Some 76% said they would get involved if recommended to by their doctor.
"This research clearly illustrates the generosity of people living with cancer. While cancer trials can give people access to promising new treatments not yet available through the mainstream health service, it's humbling to see that one of the most important factors for their participation is to advance cancer research to help future generations.
"At any one time, there are in the region of 6,000 people taking part in cancer trials. As a community we owe these people a great debt of gratitude," commented Prof Bryan Hennessy, clinical lead with Cancer Trials Ireland.
Meanwhile, according to consultant oncologist at the Mater Hospital, Dr Catherine Kelly, who led the research, the findings suggest that some people do not fully understand what is involved and how much they could benefit from taking part in a trial.
"While most people living with cancer said they fully understand the term cancer clinical trials, the research also highlighted a myth about what participating in a trial really means. Many patients consider cancer trials to be a last resort treatment option, with 22% of people surveyed believing that cancer trials were only used when standard treatments had not worked.
"On the contrary, cancer trials can offer hope to all patients with cancer, not just those for whom standard treatment has not been successful," she explained.
She noted that cancer trials test ‘new and potentially more effective ways' to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer.
"Most of our trials involve testing new drugs which show promise, or new combinations of existing drugs, which may offer better outcomes than treatments currently used," Dr Kelly said.
However, despite the potential benefits of taking part, the survey found that just 9% of cancer patients asked about participating in a cancer trial.
"This points to the need to improve the community's understanding of cancer trials. This campaign aims to empower people with cancer to trigger information-rich conversations with their doctor and support teams. We're calling on all people living with cancer to just ask their doctor if there is a relevant cancer trial that they can join to enhance their treatment options," commented Cancer Trials Ireland CEO, Eibhlín Mulroe.
The campaign is fully supported by the Irish Cancer Society. According to its head of research, Dr Robert O'Connor, clinical trials 'play a vital role in the cancer research process' and he reminded people that all cancer treatments used today 'were once put through a patient trial'.
Trials are highly regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and patients are monitored intensively by their consultant and research teams at all stages.
Any patient can withdraw from a trial at any time, without penalty or loss of benefits to which he or she is otherwise entitled, if they wish to do so. All cancer trials in Ireland are listed on the Cancer Trials Ireland website here