Clinical trials allow breast cancer patients to experience treatment of the future

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The way Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash sees it, clinical trials allow breast cancer patients to sample the treatments of the future.

“I’m very upfront with patients. I think it is a privilege to be in a clinical trial,” said Mohebtash, chief of medical cardiology and hematology at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center. “It may have an added benefit—or it may not. But you will have the opportunity to get the drug of the future now.”

Patients who are taking part in a clinical trial receive extremely intensive are, are very closely monitored and have their own nurse with whom they meet one on one, Mohebtash explained.

“And on the other side, it’s a benefit to society,” she said. “You will help patients in five or 10 years.”

Yet only 3 to 5 percent of breast cancer patients take part in clinical trials, she said.

According to a recent article in Forbes magazine , the highest rate of enrollment is in cancer trials, but participation in the U.S. still hovers at around 5 percent.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, president of Global R&D for Sanofi and former director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, wrote that patients don’t seem to be afraid of taking part in such trials.

Rather, there’s a lack of information about them.

Nearly half of adults surveyed do not understand what clinical trials are. When educated about them, a third of adults would take part in them. So encouraging physicians to talk to their patients about clinical studies, and encouraging patients to become self-advocates for their own care, is part of the solution,” Zerhouni wrote in the article.

Mohebtash said there are a dozen open clinical trials currently at MedStar Union Memorial, and 32 open at all MedStar locations.

Eight of them are for breast cancer patients, though Mohebtash couldn’t say how many patients are in those trials.

Still, she’s had patients travel from out of state to participate in clinical trials, and has seen successes firsthand that could be attributed to studies and trials done at MedStar.

Mohebtash named one long-term breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in her late 20s, who’s now 40. That patient was a part of two vaccine studies.

Maybe it was just the biology of the cancer, Mohebtash said. Or maybe it was the vaccines.

“We don’t know,” she said.

Mohebtash, who has been with MedStar since 2009, said it’s an exciting time for breast cancer research. Many advances have been made in targeted therapies—drugs that are designed to target a certain protein or gene—and immunotherapy, which uses your immune system to attack the cancer.

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