Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barriers to Clinical Trials-the CT scan

I'm not going to write a book as I did on my last post!

Suffice it to say, some of the barriers to entry of clinical trials are listed on the last post.

I want discuss one real barrier to clinical trial entry that is easily remedied. That is the demand that participants undergo multiple CT scans to track progress (if any) in the trial.

Why is there a barrier? CT scans involve high levels of radiation, and they have definitely been linked to subsequent cancers.

The risk is low, the authorities say. But any increase in cancer risk sort of defeats the search for a cure for CLL, doesn't it? It certainly makes no sense when there is an excellent alternative: MRIs.

Clinical trials are done to look for results. The ultimate hope is a cure, because the drug in tests would be a huge success! Most likely, a more modest goal is envisioned: better results than current drugs.

Determining whether a drug is better than the standard treatment is surprisingly difficult. Drug companies can't wait around for 20 years to see if patients continue to do well (i.e. survive). Instead, they look for 'end points'. These generally include signs of tumor shrinkage or elimination. That is the reason drug companies want to check your nodes. The way most doctors are used to doing this is ordering a CT scan.

Yet we've seen the danger to the patient is real. Given a choice between a trial using an MRI and one demanding multiple CT scans, most people who are aware of the dangers of CT scans will pick the safer one, in other words, the one allowing the use of MRIs.

Why do drug companies deliberately rig their trials so people are less likely to sign up? It's a mystery, with perhaps a partial solution. Several of the drug companies I've talked to are aware of the concerns on the part of patients, and know that an MRI can track lymph node size just as well (or better) than CT scans.

Well, who then is the moving force behind this unfortunate situation? The drug companies blame the CLL researchers themselves! It is the research community that apparently doesn't care about patient safety to the point that they will allow safe alternatives to dangerous radiation exposure to patients.

I've discussed this with a few researchers in light of these claims. Rumor has it that there is a group of CLL researchers who are (pardon the expression) really anal about scans. The Germans.

I suppose we who are not German can recall the reputation the Germans have for meticulous record-keeping and administration. It apparently extends to CLL clinical trials.

Who ever is to blame, it's time the patient community help end the danger. Some of us need clinical trials if we are going to stay alive. We are sacrificing our bodies to advance science. It is incumbent upon researchers to watch out for our health. We are helping them (and the drug companies) when we sign up for a trial. They need to help us avoid doing more damage to our bodies than the investigational drug might cause.

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