Why Clinical Trials Are Important – Dr. Dana RathKopf, M.D. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Interviewer: Joining us now is Dr. Dana Rathkopf, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center specializing in caring for men with prostate cancer. Thanks for being here, doctor.
You’ve led several clinical trials. Why are clinical trials so important in the development of new cancer treatments?
Dr. Rathkopf: We’re constantly striving to improve upon the standard of care and to do that we need to run clinical trials. A clinical trial is typically a study where a patient volunteers to participate so that we can test a new treatment or a new device or a new question or concept and see if it’s better than what we currently have available.
Interviewer: A lot of patients and families would wonder about this. Are clinical trials only appropriate for the patients who have exhausted all other treatment options?
Dr. Rathkopf: Absolutely not! As we understand more about cancer and the disease biology behind it, we’re realizing that there’s room for improvement on the standard of care across all states of disease and so I think it’s always appropriate to think about a clinical trial when you’re meeting a physician for the first time to always ask ‘Are there clinical trials available? What’s the standard of care? What other options are available for me?
Interviewer: A lot of people worry about cost, of course, do patients have an increase in out-of-pocket expenses if they do enroll in a trial?
Dr. Rathkopf: Typically in a clinical trial the cost of the research, if it’s a research drug for example, or the cost of the research tests, are covered by the clinical trial, but the best way for a patient to inform themselves about what is and is not covered is to look at something called the informed consent. Before you sign up for any clinical trial or before you even think about enrolling in a clinical trial your doctor will give you an informed consent that clearly outlines what is and is not covered in that trial and then you can always ask questions of course of your insurance company or the institution that’s performing this study as well.
Interviewer: Can you explain a little bit more to us what a placebo is and how it works?
Dr. Rathkopf: Oh absolutely, so I think placebos are a common fear for patients approaching a clinical trial that they’ll receive a placebo or that they won’t get an active drug. If we use a placebo we use a placebo in combination with the standard of care. So for example, if you have patients receiving the standard of care and you want to test a new drug, half the patients or some proportion of the patients will receive the new drug plus the standard of care and the other proportion of patients will receive just the standard of care with a placebo. A patient will always be informed if there’s a placebo involved in a study and again that returns to the informed consent and discussion with the physician.
Interviewer: Alright doctor, thank you so much for being with us and explaining all of this to us.
Dr. Rathkopf: It’s my pleasure.