Enrollment in clinical trials that can potentially extend the life of cancer patients is too low, a new study finds.
Researchers at Penn State also found that white males with private health insurance and cancers that have spread, and who are treated at academic medical centers, are most likely to enroll in clinical trials.
Lead researcher Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky, of Penn State College of Medicine, and his team analyzed data from over 12 million patients with 46 types of cancer from 2004 to 2015. Only about 11,600 patients enrolled in clinical trials postdiagnosis as a first treatment. That's one-tenth of 1 percent.
As these trials can benefit patients, senior study author Dr. Niraj Gusani expressed his concern about the low enrollment rates.
"Major advances in cancer treatment have been supported by clinical trials," Gusani said. "By volunteering to participate in a trial, patients may help further the field of research and gain access to new treatments."
The researchers found that patients with cancer treated in clinical trials lived longer than those who were not treated in trials. Patients who enrolled in clinical trials survived a median of 7.5 months longer than those who did not.
According to Zaorsky, prior analysis of clinical trial survival improvement didn't account for factors like age, race, gender and cancer type.
"If you're going to evaluate whether clinical trial enrollment is beneficial for patients, you have to try and match each patient to someone who has a similar cancer and sociodemographic profile," Zaorsky said. "Otherwise, it is like comparing apples to oranges."
Though those enrolled in clinical trials had better outcomes, this may not be true for the general public. Since the majority of patients enrolled had specific traits, from being white to possessing private insurance, this raises questions about generalizability.
"If clinical trials are going to be used to determine standards of care for the general population, then the study participants need to be representative of the general population -- and this study shows that often this isn't the case," Gusani said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on clinical trials.
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