How Cancer Clinical Trials Are Beneficial to Everyone

PearlMichael Pearl, MD, FACOG, FACS
Professor, Division of Gynecological Oncology; Vice Chairman, Research and Faculty Development; Director, Women's Cancer Services, Cancer Center; Medical Director, Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office
StopeckAlison Stopeck, MD
Chief, Division of Hematology/Oncology
Associate Director, Clinical and Translational Research, Stony Brook Cancer Center

Cancer has affected almost everyone, whether as a patient, family member or friend. Clinical trials provide new information on how to improve the prevention and treatment of cancer, which leads to more effective therapies and results for patients. Alison Stopeck, MD, medical oncologist and Associate Director, Clinical and Translational Research, Stony Brook Cancer Center, and Michael Pearl, MD, gynecologic oncologist and Medical Director, Clinical Trials Operations, Stony Brook Cancer Center, answer questions about clinical trials and how they may ultimately benefit us all.

What is a cancer clinical trial?
It’s a research study that uses volunteers to help doctors like us at Stony Brook Cancer Center discover better ways to diagnose, prevent or fight cancer. We have different trials focusing on:
• new or improved treatments or medicines
• new ways of providing or combining currently used therapies
• matching patients and disease with the best treatments and medications

How does a patient learn about a clinical trial?
From the patient’s doctor, usually. If one of us knows about a trial that we think could benefit one of our patients, we’ll mention it. Of course, there’s never any obligation to join a trial. 

What happens during a clinical trial?
That depends on what the research is testing. It could be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, gene therapy, medications, or any combination of those. It can even be a study where we test the tumor or obtain additional blood samples so we can better understand what causes the cancer to grow and resist therapies. The test treatment will be given to participants under very controlled circumstances. Researchers, as well as a patient’s doctors, carefully and continually monitor the patient’s health and safety. 

Who can join a clinical trial?
Each trial looks for specific types of patients or disease. For example, they may specify age, gender, type or stage of cancer, previous treatments or other criteria. If one of our patients is eligible, one of our doctors or team members explains the details to the patient and finds out if he or she is interested in participating. 

What are the potential benefits of clinical trials?
There are many that may help both current and future patients. A few include:
• Patients in the trial may get a treatment, therapy or medicine that is better than what they would have received if they were not on the trial.
• We may find ways to prevent future cancers or cancers that come back.
• Trials may show us faster, safer, better ways to diagnose and treat cancer with less pain and side effects.
• Sometimes a trial that is investigating one thing leads to a breakthrough in another area. 
Participants in clinical trials are protected by the same ethical and legal codes that doctors and hospitals must adhere to. Every clinical trial is reviewed and monitored by our Committee on Research in Human Subjects, which includes doctors, nurses and additional professionals.  

Are there any specific benefits for Suffolk and Nassau County residents?
Definitely. It’s part of the Cancer Center’s mission to focus on the care of the types of cancer the Long Island population is experiencing. This includes conducting clinical trials that are relevant to Long Islanders. By coming to Stony Brook Cancer Center, patients from our surrounding communities have access to our current clinical trials. 

What is Stony Brook’s philosophy about clinical trials?
We test things we believe will make a difference for our patients. Progress in the cancer fight is being made, but we want it to be made faster and better. Instead of taking baby steps, we’re seeking breakthrough ideas ... novel approaches that will make a real difference. To do that, we are:
• investigating areas where we believe we can make the most impact
• creating novel, safer therapies based on specific characteristics of the tumor and the patient
• thinking outside the box and asking results-changing questions 
At the Cancer Center, we have a wide range of clinical trials that qualified patients may join. Anyone on the treatment team will gladly answer questions patients or their families may have. 

For information about cancer clinical trials, call (631) 638-1000.