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New Report Reveals Barriers Preventing Cancer Patients from Joining Clinical Trials

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 6, 2023 - A new report identifies the roadblocks that too often prevent cancer patients from participating in clinical trials meant to help them – and offers policy solutions to help fix the problem. 

Clinical trials can be a lifesaving option for many cancer patients. They’re also a critical step in the process of developing new treatments. But too many patients face barriers when trying to access care through a trial. Only 6.3 percent of cancer patients enroll in cancer treatment clinical trials—and the rates are even lower for some populations, including people of color, younger patients, older patients, and patients living in rural areas.  

“When patients cannot access clinical trials, everyone suffers: current patients, future patients, and science broadly,” said Gwen Nichols, MD, chief medical officer at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “Current patients miss out on treatments that could help them immediately. And a slower pace of innovation means future patients don’t benefit as quickly from potential medical breakthroughs.”  

The report, “Trials and Tribulations: How to Remove Barriers Blocking Cancer Patients from Clinical Trials and Advance the Next Generation of Treatment,” was produced by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Manatt Health, a leading consulting firm with deep expertise in health policy. It focuses on blood cancer patients but its findings are applicable to those facing other serious conditions  

Despite federal laws intended to ensure coverage of routine patient costs associated with trials, many patients face impossible barriers to participating. Coverage denials, delays due to prior authorization, and challenges when the appropriate is outside the patient's insurance network or home state are all common hurdles. 

The study identifies four main barriers patients face when trying to access trials: 

  • insurers’ confusion about what is – and is not – covered when it comes to trial care 
  • the often cumbersome and time-consuming process of enrolling in trials 
  • insufficient access to clinical trials at facilities that involve out-of-network care 
  • unique barriers facing patients with Medicaid coverage, despite new federal laws designed to help. 

The analysis includes recommendations for state and federal policymakers to solve these problems, such as reducing the financial burden on patients, streamlining the clinical trial enrollment process, shoring up provider networks, and strengthening trial coverage for patients with Medicaid.  

Ultimately, those reforms will give patients greater access to lifesaving care, advance research, and improve health equity. By implementing the strategies outlined in the report, healthcare stakeholders can help current patients get care—while advancing crucial research to help the patients of tomorrow. 

Media contact
Ryan Holeywell