Doctors at Seattle Children’s, a Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) parent institution, see about 200 new pediatric cancer patients a year. About half of these children take part in clinical studies.
Clinical studies, also called clinical trials, typically test new cancer therapies, including combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.
When talking to parents about clinical studies, Dr. Russell Geyer, MD, a pediatric oncologist with Children’s and SCCA, says he tries to be “extraordinarily clear” about the possible risks as well as the possible benefits to their child. “We approach most families with the idea that we have an opportunity to cure the child [with a clinical study]. But it is not a guarantee.”
It is helpful for parents to realize, Dr. Geyer adds, that most of the clinical studies for childhood cancers are national studies. Their child would get the same treatment and the same opportunities to enroll in these studies no matter where in North America the child was treated.
Parents need to be sure that they understand what is different about the treatment their child would receive in a study compared to the standard of care, as well as what parts of the study treatment are investigational. Dr. Geyer says staff at Children’s will answer parents’ questions and help them understand the differences.
Parents will want to know as much as they can about any study they are considering for their child, and when making the decision, Dr. Geyer says, “I would make certain that I understood clearly what additional risks my child might be taking by participating in a clinical trial. If we knew that a new treatment was the best treatment, we wouldn’t be doing a clinical trial. But the clinical trials we offer are based on the best available evidence.”