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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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Patient Participation Improves Trials: A Preview of Chicago's Plenary II

Jul 31, 2015 - On Tuesday, registration opens for SWOG's fall group meeting. So mark your calendars and visit swog.org/Visitors/GpMeeting.asp to sign up.

Chicago won't disappoint. We've got not one but two terrific general plenary keynote speakers on deck to deliver talks in my hometown.

As we all know, our patients are our partners. They are the reason we do our work, and they are with us every step of the way. With that in mind, we'll first welcome Dr. Mira Katz to the Plenary II podium on Friday, October 9th. A behavioral scientist and public health researcher at Ohio State University, Dr. Katz studies ways to reduce the incidence of cancer among racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured, low-income children, and other underserved populations. Dr. Katz has extensively studied patient involvement in cancer clinical trials. She was part of a team assessing accrual to cooperative group trials, publishing its results a decade or so ago in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In 2012, Dr. Katz was lead author on a Cancer article specifically examining the role of patient advocates in cancer trials. Her team surveyed 200 advocates and investigators in the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) -- now part of the Alliance -- and found (no surprise) that a majority believed that patient participation can improve trials. But how? Clarifying advocates' roles is needed, Katz and her team found, and they identified steps SWOG and other groups can take to give patients a voice that is effective and meaningful.

Stan Collender will follow Dr. Katz.

Mr. Collender has cancer. It's a Merkel cell carcinoma, a fast-moving form of skin cancer we rarely see. Collender is now in a clinical trial -- and in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last month, he called on cancer patients everywhere to join him. After noting that only 3 percent of people with cancer join a clinical study, Collender made a strong and succinct case for trials. And, along the way, the Washington, D.C., based communications executive, Congressional budget expert, and Forbes columnist addressed common concerns about, and barriers to, study enrollment.

"One of my doctors called me a pioneer. I am, after all, a member of the team helping to develop a drug for my cancer, and one of the first people to use it for that purpose," he wrote. "But I really like to think of myself as the equivalent of a test pilot like Chuck Yeager and the early astronauts. The difference is that, instead of testing aircraft and aerospace vehicles, I'm testing the efficacy of a drug that may cure my cancer, or at least prolong my life and the lives of others. Being a test pilot is a far more romantic, daring and audacious notion than being a lab rat. In the fight against cancer, it's also more accurate."

We need more test pilots. Our trials depend on them. By inviting Katz and Collender, I hope we can discover new ways to engage patients so we can better treat them and learn how to better prevent their cancer.

But, of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. Next week, Dr. Lee Ellis, our Vice-Chair for Translational Medicine, will introduce the speaker line-up for the translational medicine plenary session (Plenary I). Stay tuned -- and please sign up to attend!


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