As the nation takes up what President Barack Obama calls a moon shot to cure cancer, the need for contributions from one sector of the medical community may not be obvious – the patients themselves.
It almost seems unkind to ask patients – already burdened with the fears, expenses and challenges of what can be painful, sickening treatment regimens – to help others.
Patients need the best care, and they deserve all of the assistance that can be offered. At the same time, however, they are in a unique position to make contributions to science that, even if they won’t benefit personally, can certainly be helpful to others.
Most adults with cancer are hesitant to join clinical trials that drive the research that leads to advances in care and, ultimately, cures. Just 3 to 5 percent of patients volunteer, with 1 in 5 cancer studies failing to drawn enough participation to determine what works.
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Ironically, the problem is particularly acute for studies of breast cancer and other forms that have seen higher survival rates and cures – largely due to earlier clinical trials. Researchers see greater participation among patients who have cancers with poorer outcomes, including melanoma and pancreatic, lung and colon cancers.
Physicians for their part must do a better job of reassuring their patients that volunteering for the studies will not diminish the quality of care that they receive. If anything, they stand to benefit from new treatment options in addition to what currently are the best options. Researchers, too, must explain their trials more fully.
Caregivers alone, though, will not be able to beat cancer. Future medical advances depend on the patients, too.