Want the Most Up-to-Date Lung Cancer Treatments? Consider a Clinical Trial.
When it was time for Diane Legg to begin treatment for recurrent lung cancer, she asked her doctor about clinical trials.
Legg, a mother of three boys, was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer when her youngest son was just a year old. She had a lobectomy in late 2004 and underwent chemotherapy in 2005. When her cancer recurred two years later, she decided (with her doctor) to carefully monitor her cancer and begin treatment only when her symptoms began interfering with her quality of life.
That moment came in early 2015. Legg's doctor suggested erlotinib (Tarceva®), a targeted medication that goes after a particular genetic mutation present in Legg's cancer. But Legg told her doctor, "If there's a clinical trial out there, that's what I want to do. I want to be part of science. I want to help."
Enrolling in a Clinical Trial
Clinical trials are carefully monitored research studies that help physicians determine the best treatments. Clinical trials are randomized, with some participants receiving the best known standard of care and other participants receiving the new therapy being tested.
Legg's doctor found a clinical trial that was perfect for her: a trial testing the use of immunotherapy with the targeted therapy, erlotinib (Tarceva®). Legg would get erlotinib, a standard treatment for her type of cancer. She'd also get an immunotherapy drug that has shown promise as a lung cancer treatment. Doctors suspect that the two treatments may be more effective together; the clinical study will help them understand how patients react when the two medications are given together. The results of the study will ultimately influence the future treatment of lung cancer.
Clinical Trials = Great Care
Some people shy away from clinical trials because they're afraid they might miss out on an effective treatment. But that fear is misplaced. Ethically, physicians cannot withhold treatment from patients, and all patients enrolled in a clinical trial are carefully monitored throughout the trial. In clinical trials, all patients receive care—either the new drug being tested or the best known standard of care. Also, trial participants are often followed more closely than people not in a trial because researchers and clinicians are studying the treatment's effects.
"There are more checks and balances when you're on a clinical trial," Legg said. "They do more blood work and more scans because they want to know what's going on."
While the extra monitoring may require extra clinic visits, Legg believes the effort is worthwhile. When she developed uncomfortable side effects during the trial, she reported her symptoms to her physician, who saw her promptly. He reported her symptoms to other physicians with patients in the trial, and together they brainstormed a way to manage the side effects.
Helping Yourself, Helping Others
Within three weeks of beginning treatment in the clinical trial, the amount of cancer in Legg's lungs decreased by 56 percent. It's too early to say if the treatment will continue to be effective for Legg (or for other cancer patients), but participation in clinical trials gives patients access to promising treatments that are not yet approved for general use. Clinical trial results also help advance the science of cancer care.
"I encourage everyone to look at clinical trials," Legg says. "And keep looking, because the end of the day, clinical trials are going to help everybody."
Looking for Information on Lung Cancer Clinical Trials?
Find a Clinical Trial
Learn more about clinical trial programs in your area by searching our list and be sure to discuss with your doctor whether a clinical trial is right for you.
You can also search the Lung Cancer Clinical Trials Matching Service, provided by a partnership between the American Lung Association and EmergingMed. Patients can search for clinical trials that match their specific diagnosis and treatment history.