Just 5% of cancer patients participate in clinical trials: 5 things to know

As cancer treatments continue to improve and advance, limited patient participation in research remains an inhibitor to progress. While more than 2,000 immunotherapy drugs are currently in development, just 5 percent of cancer patients participate in clinical trials, PBS NewsHour reports.

Here are five key takeaways from the report.

1. In 2016, there were an estimated 1.7 million new diagnoses of cancer in the U.S. Despite advancements in treatment, 600,000 people died of the disease in the same year. Developing new safe and effective cancer treatments is a long and laborious process that can be significantly slowed by limited patient participation.

2. Beyond the willingness of patients to participate in trials, limited access to novel cancer therapies is a major hindrance to patient enrollment. The overwhelming majority of cancer treatment clinical trials occur in the nation's major research hospitals.

"I don't think it's an unwillingness on the patients' part," Scott Delacroix, MD, director of urologic oncology at Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center in New Orleans, told PBS NewsHour. "I don't even think it's an unwillingness on the physician's part. It's really a systems error, with the fact that patients don't have access, unless they are willing to travel."

3. After flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina closed Louisiana's primary cancer research center at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, a team led by Augusto Ochoa, MD, a pediatrician allergist-immunologist at Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, worked to change the state's clinical trial infrastructure and expand patient access with the help of the National Cancer Institute.

"After Katrina, our only choice was to start working with community oncologists and community sites," Dr. Ochoa told PBS NewsHour. "I think this is a winning approach to bring clinical trials to the patients. They cannot be exclusively provided in specialized cancer centers."

4. The group established the Gulf South NCORP clinical trials network, which currently consists of more than 22 treatment facilities staffed by more than 90 investigators across Louisiana, with one location in Mississippi. The effort tripled the number of patients enrolled in clinical trials in Louisiana.

5. Technology provides another avenue to speed cancer treatment development by facilitating the spread of information. Researchers with Flatiron Health, a healthcare technology company launched in 2012, have developed a database fueled by anonymized patient information provided by 2,500 oncology clinicians who also use the database in their own research.

"I think the electronic health record shift is a similar style infrastructure shift to the cell phone, which is we took all of these folks who essentially were disconnected from the grid, and we gave them a phone, and now they're fully connected," Zach Weinberg, co-founder of Flatiron Health, told PBS NewsHour. "In healthcare what we're doing is something really similar. Whether it's identifying patients for clinical trials, making treatment recommendations or even just helping physicians figure out what other docs are doing for similar types of patients."

To view the whole report, click here.

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