Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re examining how personalized medicine can improve treatment experiences and outcomes for breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women. The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be over 250,000 new cases diagnosed in the US in 2019. Although breast cancer rates have declined by over 40% in the last 30 years due to early detection, there remains significant room for improvement in clinical trial design and patient care.
Fortunately, innovations in cancer research have made it possible to individualize treatment options. Personalized medicine is improving outcomes for breast cancer patients and rapidly transforming the clinical research landscape. Here’s what sponsors and CROs need to know about these new developments, including how to incorporate patient-centric measures into their own trials.
Advancements in Patient-Centric Care
Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” strategy, oncologists are increasingly approaching treatment on a case-by-case basis, aiming to find the best immunological and targeted therapies that fit a patient’s diagnosis. The ideal combination of treatments can vary, not only depending on cancer stage and the size of the tumor, but also on genetic makeup and medical history. Breast cancer clinical trials can now be personalized according to patient history and specific findings in MRIs.
Recent years have seen an increase in the numbers and types of immunotherapies and targeted therapies available in cancer clinical trials. While historically, cancers were separated by type — distinguishing breast cancer, lung cancer, and so on — new treatments enable patients to be matched to molecular and immunological mechanisms independent of cancer type.
Clinical trials in precision oncology aim to improve patient experience and outcomes by matching therapies to fit factors on the molecular level. According to a study published in Nature Medicine, patients who received precision care by matching specific mutations with targeted drugs have better outcomes than the broader patient population.
Beyond personalizing treatment, the manner of patient engagement can also make a difference. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that the success of cancer treatments partially depends on whether or not physicians take into account the needs and perspectives of patients. Factors like pain reduction and treatment-free remission are highly valued by patient organizations and play a crucial role in patient experience. Further, patients benefit from being consulted during every step of their treatment.
How Clinical Trials Can Adapt
Despite research demonstrating the benefits of precision oncology and the importance of incorporating patient perspectives, personalized medicine is not yet standard practice in cancer clinical trials. This means sponsors and CROs that stay ahead of the patient-centric trend can leverage innovations in patient treatment and engagement to improve clinical enrollment and patient retention.
There are many patient-centric measures clinical trials can adopt now, including updating data protections, removing logistical barriers such as transportation, and modernizing and expanding eligibility criteria. Telemedicine technologies also provide a proactive, simple, and accessible way of engaging with patients and incorporating patient information. Wearable devices like Fitbit or Apple Watch can accommodate a large volume of patients and deliver information without scheduling in-person exams. According to a 2016 survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Robert Graham Center, the vast majority of doctors surveyed agreed that telemedicine had “the potential to improve physician access and continuity of care.”
By adopting a more patient-centric approach, CROs and sponsors can improve the patient experience, keep subjects engaged, and prevent high dropout rates. This also extends to digital marketing efforts — such as pay-per-click and social media ads that directly address the pain points of breast cancer patients, or websites designed to be accessible and easy to navigate.
Breast Cancer patients who receive thoughtful, personalized care are likely to have better treatment experiences and even better outcomes. By embracing patient-centric strategies and innovative technologies, sponsors and CROs can improve participation in clinical trials while proactively meeting patients’ needs.