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Men's Healthcare 2021

Increasing awareness of clinical trials to improve participation

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Professor Ray McDermott

Consultant Medical Oncologist and Clinical Lead, Cancer Trials Ireland

International collaboration is key to providing cancer trials options in Ireland.

One of the few positives of the pandemic is the increase in public understanding – and support – of clinical trials. Research Cancer Trials Ireland undertook at the end of 2020 showed that one in two Irish people (48%) were willing to take part in a clinical trial. 

That is certainly encouraging, but trials remain subject to the highest standards of ethics, regulation, design and – critically – statistical analysis. Balancing these factors, doctor-scientists (‘investigators’ as we are known within the trials community) have to ensure that enough people take part in a trial to produce a statistically robust result, or in other words, an answer we can trust. But like in so many other areas of Irish life and industry, we lack the population size to execute trials in isolation from the rest of world. So, we do what we always do – we collaborate with other countries.

Prostate cancer is a common form of cancer that affects one in seven men in Ireland in their lifetime.

International collaboration

This is true of an international prostate cancer clinical trial that I work on with colleagues all over the world (NZ, Australia, UK, and soon USA and Canada). In simple terms, we’re working together to see if the existing optimum treatment (known as ‘standard of care’) for high-risk localised prostate cancer can be improved by adding a hormonal agent. 

The ‘high-risk’ here refers to the possibility of the cancer ‘moving’ (metastasizing) to other parts of the body. In about one in seven cases (15%) of this high-risk prostate cancer, the disease does move to other areas of the body and become incurable. The DASL trial is trying to ascertain if the introduction of a new, additional hormonal agent can bring that 15% figure down. 

Eligibility criteria 

Another big plus for this trial is its relatively broad eligibility. Ordinarily, in any trial, you are trying to remove as many variables as possible. That means you have tightly defined criteria for any patient to take part in the trial. Unusually, this trial is open to patients who are being treated with radiotherapy after surgery – and also patients being treated with radiotherapy who have not had surgery.

Concerned about symptoms? 

Prostate cancer is a common form of cancer that affects one in seven men in Ireland in their lifetime. Unlike other forms of cancer (breast and lung), screening is less cut and dried, but if you think you are experiencing symptoms, go to the Irish Cancer Society website and take the prostate health quiz. Thereafter, talk to your GP about PSA testing.

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