Clinical Trials are at the Forefront of Cancer Care

Published: Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Clinical trials are important components in the fight against cancer, and patients at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center (ECCC) have access to several trials on the forefront of cancer care.

The LUNG-MAP trial, a nationwide trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, is the culmination of years of cancer research and lung cancer treatment, said ECCC Oncology Research Supervisor Barb Payne, RN, OCN, CCRP. Patients participating in the trial are screened for genetic changes or mutations that can exist in cancer tissue, then are assigned to a study that best fits the screening results.

“After decades of research, we are learning more about what causes healthy cells to turn into cancer cells,” Payne said. “All cancers are caused by damaged genes, and the LUNG-MAP clinical trial looks at 200 cancer-related genes for genomic alterations. Based on the results of the screening, patients are assigned to treatment that best suits their genomic profile, if one is available.”

The trial improves the patient’s likelihood of receiving a drug targeted at the genetic profile of their particular tumor, Payne said.

In addition to the trial by the National Cancer Institute and the Children’s Oncology Group, patients at the ECCC have access to industry-sponsored and investigator-initiated trials that range from promising new therapies and prevention strategies to trials that seek to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment.

Maria Tria Tirona, MD, FACP, director of medical oncology at the ECCC and professor of medicine and section chief in the Department of Hematology/Oncology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, concluded a study in August 2018 that resulted in a new strategy for reducing the side effects of aromatase inhibitors in patients with breast cancer.

“Aromatase inhibitors are a standard treatment for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women,” Dr. Tirona said. “These treatments can help prevent a return of the disease by blocking the effects of estrogen, but a common side effect of the treatment is joint and muscle pain.”

When Dr. Tirona discovered that drinking a small amount of tart cherry juice following a workout reduced muscle soreness, she began suggesting that her breast cancer patients drink an ounce of tart cherry juice a day. More than half reported positive outcomes, and Dr. Tirona initiated a clinical trial to further study the juice’s effects with hematology-oncology fellow Mina Shenouda, MD, who was the trial’s principal investigator.

With a grant from the Cherry Marketing Institute, Dr. Tirona enrolled 60 patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, which returned positive results in decreasing pain and soreness. The Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) awarded Dr. Shenouda with a Merit Award for the trial, titled “Effect of Tart Cherry on Aromatase Inhibitor-Induced Arthralgia in Non-Metastatic Hormone Positive Breast Cancer Patients.”

“An entire team of medical oncologists, nurses, physician assistants and clinical trial personnel at the ECCC contributed to the success of this clinical trial,” Dr. Tirona said. “We are honored to be recognized by such a prestigious group for our results.”

The ECCC is continually researching new treatment options and ways to improve care for patients and clinical trials are a vital aspect of that mission, Payne said.

 

“Clinical trials are the gold standard in cancer care, and we’re proud to provide a full range of trials at the ECCC that is equal to what you’d find at the nation’s largest cancer centers,” she said.