November 3, 2017

Clinical trials 101

Sara Corcoran, Research Manager Lung Cancer, Lung Foundation Australia

Research. You hear about it everywhere but maybe you’re thinking I’ve already been diagnosed with lung cancer so what can a clinical trial do for me now? On a personal note, my father was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. His tumour was found only when he volunteered for a clinical trial.

What is a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are research investigations where people volunteer to test new treatments, interventions or tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions. Some investigations look at how people respond to a new intervention and what side effects might occur. This helps to determine if a new intervention works, if it is safe, and if it is better than the interventions that are already available.

One physician uses a gardening analogy to describe cancer and cancer treatment. Normally your lawn is green and lush and starts to turn brown when cancer invades (unless you mow it within an inch of its life like my neighbour), and the goal of treatment is to help return your lawn to its previous healthy green state. Clinical trials help discover new methods to help restore that brown grass to its green lushness.

Why does research take so long to conduct?
Running clinical trials requires not only funding, but most importantly patient volunteers. Deconstructing a disease is time exhaustive and hugely expensive however patient enrolment accounts for the bulk of a trial. In Australia, only 2–3% of adult cancer patients take part in clinical studies and the rate is even lower among minority groups and women. Often it is assumed that research is only conducted by big pharmaceutical companies, however many clinical studies are actually initiated by clinicians such as oncologists and the collaborative groups they belong to. Collaborative trial groups join clinicians to define questions, collect data and analyse outcomes, which translate to changes in current practice.

So back to you. If you have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and understandably are feeling confused, your thoughts might be all over the place — did they just say cancer? Is surgery an option? How bad it is? When do I start treatment?

There are support services available to inform you about considering and participating in a clinical trial. The Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group (ALTG) is a multi-disciplinary organisation dedicated to reducing the impact of lung cancer and improving the quality of life through the coordination and facilitation of high quality clinical research. To find out more contact Lung Foundation Australia’s Information and Support Centre via freecall 1800 654 301 or talk to your health professional.