By Roland Matthews, M.D. and Nancy M. Paris, MS, FACHE
According to a national public opinion poll released last summer, more than two-thirds of Americans say it’s likely they would participate in a clinical trial if recommended by their doctor, but only 22 percent say a doctor or other healthcare professional has ever talked to them about medical research. Commissioned by Research!America, a research advocacy group, the findings of the survey paint a vivid picture of the need for healthcare providers to educate patients on the benefits of clinical trials.
Because clinical trials represent the leading edge of cancer treatment and quality care, Georgia CORE – the Center for Oncology, Research and Education was formed in 2003 to focus on increasing their access and availability. Community and academic oncologists created a research network – not to serve one institution or region of the state, but to ensure equitable distribution of trials and treatments across the state.
A common misperception about clinical trials is that they are only academic. It does take the scientist to develop the concept for new and effective treatments. But it also takes community oncologists to administer the treatments. The collaboration that was formalized a decade ago in building our research network has provided a “safe zone” for studies here, so much so that 90 percent of the oncologists who diagnose and treat cancer patients in Georgia are affiliated with Georgia CORE.
The intentional collaboration and deliberate focus on clinical trials for cancer has resulted in their increased availability in Georgia by at least 80 percent in the last four years. Also, access to these trials has increased, with 42 percent offered in rural Georgia, where 46 percent of the state’s population resides. And though, as the study points out, accrual rates are low across the country, participation in cancer clinical trials in Georgia has increased – notably among minorities, who represent approximately 25 percent of patients enrolled in Georgia CORE sponsored studies.
The most troubling data point from the Research!America poll is that of the respondents that said they have heard of a clinical trial, more than half learned about it through the Internet and only a quarter from a doctor or other healthcare provider. We value the Internet, which is why we created GeorgiaCancerInfo.org – an online information center for all things cancer all over the state. But we also believe patients need to hear from their healthcare providers about options for the most advanced treatments available.
Clinical trials allow for breakthroughs. Clinical trials allow for discoveries that will, one day, help find cures for cancer, and in the mean time, improve the quality of life of cancer patients. When educated and given the opportunity, patients understand that participating in a study not only is potentially beneficial for them, but also for those 48,000 Georgians who will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
Healthcare providers must work together to ensure all cancer patients in Georgia know their options and understand the benefits of clinical trials. We must raise awareness that our patients can benefit from the amazing research happening right here in our state. If we do not, what’s the point of the research?
Dr. Roland Matthews is Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Morehouse School of Medicine and Medical Director of the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady. He is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist with subspecialty certification in gynecologic oncology.
Nancy M. Paris is the President and CEO of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education, a nonprofit enterprise working to strengthen the quality of cancer care in Georgia.