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January 04, 2011 06:09 PM

Cancer Clinical Trials


There's a range of treatments available for cancer patients, and one way doctors continue to improve those treatments is through clinical trials.

Nine years ago, Kathleen Lunde was faced with something she never imagined.

"Within the space of one week, I had a tumor on both ovaries and they had grown from probably the size of a walnut to the size of an orange; they got that big," Lunde said.

The wife and mother of two was diagnosed with stage 3B ovarian cancer, meaning she could be treated to prolong her life but not to be cured.

She underwent surgery, and in the process of discussing treatments, her doctor asked her to participate in a clinical study.

"I decided to be in the study because I thought, 'Well, maybe this will be the thing that helps me survive,'" Lunde said.

As part of the study, she drew two extra chemo therapies. So instead of six treatments, she had eight.

Researchers follow her treatments and progress to study what works and what doesn't.

"We’re always looking at ways to improve the standard of care.  If we didn't have clinical trials, we wouldn't be able to do that," Phase 1 Clinical Research Coordinator at Sanford Health Christie Ellison said. 

Ellison says they have dozens of clinical trials going on constantly.

"Our cancer department here probably has about 80 cancer clinical trials open at any given time for the adult cancer world," Ellison said.

Patients who are selected to participate in clinical trials may get different medications, treatments or doses, but no matter what, still get standard treatment.

"The biggest benefit is it gives the patient more treatment options," Ellison said.

And offers researchers a chance to find better treatments and maybe even a cure.  While there's no guarantee, Lunde says it's worth giving a shot.

"I’m hoping someone else’s treatment will be altered in a way that will make it better for them and a better outcome," Lunde said.

After relapsing in both 2004 and in 2005, Lunde has now been in remission for five years.  While she's been warned by doctors that her cancer will most likely come back, she's keeping a positive outlook on life.

Patients have to be selected to participate in studies and must get approval from their insurance companies because they do have to take on the cost. You can find more information at the National Cancer Institutes website.
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