Are Adolescents Overlooked in Clinical Trials?

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Evidence suggests that enrollment in clinical trials can yield better outcomes for the patients who participate. In fact, almost all standard cancer therapies used today got their start in a clinical trial. Why then are adolescents, or those ages 15 to 19, less likely than younger pediatric patients to take advantage of these options?

“Clinical trials have played a significant role in the increased survival rates of both pediatric and adult oncology patients,” explained Martin Brecher, MD, The Waldemar J. Kaminski chair in pediatrics at Roswell Park and chief of the hematology/ oncology division at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. “The improvement in cure rates for adolescent patients has not been as dramatic. Adolescents sometimes ‘fall through the cracks’ of pediatric and adult oncology, resulting in less access to clinical trials. We are looking to bridge this gap.”

Are Adolescents Overlooked in Clinical Trials?

Roswell Park’s Lynda Beaupin, MD, pediatric oncologist and assistant professor of oncology, is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to understand this trend. Her research has identified a few possible underlying issues, including:

  • Low referral rates. Adolescent patients are less likely to be referred to cancer centers that participate in National Cancer Institute (NCI) - sponsored pediatric clinical trials.
  • Limited availability. Very few trials are explicitly designed to address the unique aspects of adolescent and young adult patients or disease.

Part of the solution, according to Dr. Beaupin, is better communication.

“We need to improve how we communicate with adolescent patients and how to engage them in their care,” Dr. Beaupin said. “We also need to continue to raise awareness about cancers among adolescents within the community so that they may be referred appropriately.”

At Roswell Park, adolescent patients have access to clinical trials through both pediatric and adult cooperative groups. In addition, the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program strives to increase awareness about available resources.

To read more about Dr. Lynda Beaupin's research, visit the AYA category of the Cancer Talk blog at RoswellPark.org.