In the past fighting cancer often seemed to take a nuclear bomb approach—high doses of radiation or chemotherapy that killed not only the malignant cells but healthy ones, too. But that is quickly changing, and in Northwest Indiana many local hospitals are collaborating with larger institutions, allowing patients access to state-of-the-art clinical trials.
Though the word "trial" may sound like a hit or miss proposition when it comes to cancer care, there are well structured research studies administered to answer specific questions concerning new drug therapies, surgical procedures, devices or alternate ways of using known treatments.
According to Dr. Mohamad Kassar, a medical oncologist at Community Hospital and the principal investigator for the Gynecology Oncology Group (GOG) trials, clinical trials help in determining whether a test or treatment regimen is equally or more effective than another. In the U.S., medications and devices must go through clinical trials prior to being used in the treatment of patients.
Collaborating with Rush Medical Center in Chicago, Community’s cancer team is working to advance early detection and treatment of both uterine and ovarian cancers.
“With our participation in the GOG trials, Community Hospital can offer area residents access to state-of-the art national clinical trials,” says Kassar, noting that the treatment of gynecological malignancies, particularly ovarian cancer, is quickly changing and better therapeutic options are becoming available.
“There are different cancer research groups in the country,” says B. H. Barai, M.D., Medical Director, Oncology Institute at Methodist Hospitals. “We are affiliated with the University of Chicago, which is affiliated with the Alliance for Cancer Research. What that means is whatever protocol that hospitals like Duke University, Mount Sinai and Sloan Memorial have is available in Northwest Indiana. People then don’t have to travel.”
Methodist offers the latest clinical trials such as the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) national clinical research trials and is also a regional center for the nationwide SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial).
“Not many cancers are more aggressive than triple-negative breast cancer,” Barai says. “But there’s positive news; some new chemo drugs for triple-negative are already in clinical trials such as PARP Inhibitors, which are showing a lot of promise.”
In his 35 years as an oncologist, Dr. Mark Kozloff, medical director of Ingalls Cancer Care, says he sometimes got a little down.
“When you deal with cancer and there aren’t big changes, it’s hard,” he says. “But now I’m more enthused about the future of oncology than I ever have been. The more understanding we have about cancer, the more we can treat it rationally rather than irrationally treating everything.”
Partnering with the National Cancer Institute and Chicago's major university hospitals as well as the nation's leading cancer treatment centers, Ingalls works with them in the design and implementation of a myriad of clinical trials for nearly every cancer site in the body.
“These studies are very exciting,” Kozloff says. “There’s an experimental drug we’re looking at in treating BCL-2," he says. “BCL-2 typically doesn’t allow lymphoma cells to die, but this drug allows the cancer to die naturally.”
According to Kozloff, other clinical studies suggest that certain types of drugs bind with c-Met inhibitors, allowing chemo to be more effective, while another indicates that an antibody appears to attach to c-Met inhibitors and prevents cancer cells from developing.
“Oncology today and in the future is going to be personalized care based on the genetics of the cancer and the genetics of the patient,” says Kozloff, noting that it’s no longer one-size-fits-all in cancer treatments but rather tailored to the individual. “It’s going to change how we treat cancer. Sometimes it allows us to give less treatments, sometimes more, but that’s less toxic. It may not always be curative but will hopefully make life better and longer.” Courtesy of the Times.