As a clinical trials specialist for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I guide blood cancer patients and their families through the process of determining whether a clinical trial might be right for them. I try to clarify any misconceptions people have about what is involved so they will be in a much better place to make a decision. This blog addresses some of the most common misunderstandings.
Considering a clinical trial for treatment of a blood cancer? Make sure you know the facts.
I Might Get a Placebo
A placebo is a substance that looks the same as the one used in the clinical trial but has no active ingredients. Most people think of a placebo as a ‘sugar pill.’ Placebos are almost never used in cancer clinical trials. In the rare instance a trial involves a placebo, you will be told before you agree to participate.
Patients enrolling in Phase I or Phase II trials all receive the experimental treatment. In Phase 3 trials, doctors are trying to learn if the experimental treatment is better than the proven or ‘standard of care’ treatment. In order to find out, half the participants will be given the standard of care treatment and the other half will be given the experimental treatment. The combined results of one group are then compared to the results of the other. Neither participants nor their doctors can choose which treatment they will receive.
That little orange tablet known as Gleevec (imatinib) has led us back to normalcy. As a breast cancer survivor with many friends and family members waging their own cancer battles, I only wish there were more solutions this simple -- and this hopeful. Yes, we harbor a potentially fatal disease and the pill-taking may last forever, but life goes on. No one would guess I have leukemia. If it weren't for "the pill," I might not even remember I have it myself.
Lynne Smith is a CML survivor, LLS blogger and former journalist who is thankful for every post-diagnosis day.
I've been scared of many things over the years -- going to the dentist, speaking in front of a crowd, getting hit by a crazy driver. But nothing has ever compared to the fear that came from hearing the words "You have leukemia."
It was eight years ago that blood cancer -- that sneaky little tyrant -- crept up behind me, pounced, and knocked me flat. The blow was so sudden I wasn't even sure what hit me.
I've since learned that I could have gone years with my chromosomes duking it out in my bone marrow and never even known it. For that reason, I thank my lucky stars every day that I had breast cancer. It was only because of a follow-up blood test that I found out anything was wrong.
A year out from surgery and chemotherapy, and six months into marriage to my second husband (the first died from cancer), I had unwittingly stumbled into my next test generated by recklessly proliferating cells that just couldn’t get enough of me.
An inexplicably high white blood cell count was not, unfortunately, the sign of an impending cold. Instead it was a welcome to a new reality. One fairly painful bone marrow biopsy later, it was confirmed: I had LEUKEMIA! Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) to be exact. My oncologist shared the news gently, cushioning the shock by telling me that all I would probably have to do was take a pill a day. Yeah, right. I was sure he couldn't even bear to tell me the truth.