“You have cancer.” Those words are inevitably followed by a wave of strong emotions and a torrent of thoughts. They are also usually followed with the beginnings of a treatment plan and/or next steps by a reassuring physician. In many cases the physician will also discuss the option of participating in a clinical trial as part of their treatment.
With over 75 clinical trials open at the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), and administered by Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson), it can be difficult for a patient to determine if any particular trial is right for them.
Patients at LRCP can now connect with a clinical trials advisor to help them explore a treatment option that is right for them.
“Patient participation in research, through a clinical trial, can be an empowering experience. They have a voice in their care, but their participation also makes a difference to other patients,” says Heather Mayer, clinical trials advisor, LRCP. “Unfortunately, researching clinical trials can be a daunting and confusing task for patients, but that’s where I can help.”
As clinical trials advisor, Mayer helps connect patients to the research teams overseeing the clinical trials. “I’m liaison between patients and researchers. It can be very difficult for patients to understand that they will not be eligible for every trial. I try to help them find trials that we believe they can participate in successfully,” she says. In some cases, this has meant that Mayer has contacted other research centers on behalf of patients.
To find clinical trials that are appropriate to patients, Mayer examines their patient record, including their cancer type, and whether they have had genomic testing, which is often required to determine eligibility. Once Mayer finds a trial she and the patient agree may be appropriate, she refers the patient to a research coordinator of that trial for screening. She stays in touch with a patient up until the point of referral, or continues to work with them to find a different trial.
“We hope that by having a person who is dedicated to helping patients, families and caregivers navigate the complex clinical trials landscape we will not only improve the success of cancer research, but have the ability to put the needs of patients front and center in order to be certain all of their treatment options, questions and concerns are addressed,” explains Richard McClelland, operations lead, LRCP. That dedication may also help patients get access to innovative new treatments that they otherwise would not be able to get access to outside a clinical trial. “Our goal is to get every interested patient on an appropriate clinical trial.”
A misconception that Mayer hopes to break is that clinical trials are only accessible to patients at the beginning of their cancer journey. “There are available clinical trials at every stage of treatment. Every patient, and their family, should be empowered to assess their options at any stage of their care,” she adds. “I want every patient to ask if there is a clinical trial right for them.”