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Clinical trials can be key in cancer diagnosis

By CRAIG McCarthy

October 2015

When it comes to fighting cancer, access to clinical trials for patients is key. For many, clinical trials are often the only option when standard treatments are not available or no longer producing positive results.

"Clinical trials offer the possibility of tomorrow’s treatments today," says Dr. James Thomas.

Thomas is the associate director of translational research and the medical director of the clinical trials office at Froedert & the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center. He says clinical trials are necessary in the ongoing war against all types of cancer.

"Considerable process is being made in cancer treatment. There have been more than 20 new drugs brought to market alone in the last year three years," he says.

While there is a lot of focus and research on the most common cancer types, such as lung, prostate, breast, colon and pancreatic, Thomas says that’s not the determining factor when it comes to clinical trials, that science is the driving force.

"There are some cancers that even though they are quite uncommon, because we discover a new pathway or a new target, that they become a hot area of interest," he adds.

There are three phases involved in a clinical trial before any new treatment can be approved for use on the general public. Phase I involves taking a treatment for the first time and trying it on humans. This involves making sure drug dosages are correct and that toxicity levels are monitored.

Once the dosage is set, phase II involves taking a small number of people with that cancer and giving them the treatment to see how well it works.

Finally, phase III involves determining if the new treatment works better then the old standard. This usually involves hundreds, if not thousands, of patients at a number of cancer centers around the country. If the trial passes all three phases, the new standard is adopted.

"We know cancer is a big problem. We’ve make steady improvement in the last two decades, but to have further improvements it’s going to take continued effort in development and doing clinical trials to prove what works and what doesn’t work," says Thomas.

Katie Wulff is the associate director of clinical research at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center in Madison. She says the new cancer centers like the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care in Pewaukee, which opened in August, can provide more access to clinical trials that are available.

"This will definitely benefit people in the Milwaukee area," says Wulff.

She also says advances in technology are playing a key role in making sure patients have the information they need to make informed decisions.

"We have mandates now on public websites and public databases to advertise clinic trails — not only the ones that are available, but once trials are up and running and once results come through," Wulff continues.

According to Thomas, most cancer patients get diagnosed in their 50s, 60s and 70s, which means clinical trials are vital for an aging population. He says that at any given time there are approximately 150 clinical trials going at his cancer center. "Our goal is to have a trial for most people who carry a cancer diagnosis."


This story ran in the October 2015 issue of: