Many cancer patients opting not to participate in clinical trials during coronavirus pandemic

PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) — Since the pandemic began, every aspect of how we seek health care has changed. Fear of getting COVID-19 has been the most daunting for cancer patients. Now researchers say the coronavirus may impact future care because fewer people are participating in crucial clinical trials.

Two years ago, 68-year-old Bob Roshetar of Pasadena had his gallbladder removed unexpectedly.

“I had some abdominal pain,” he said. “Pretty severe abdominal pain.”

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But it wasn’t just his gallbladder. Doctors discovered he also had liver cancer. After more surgery at City of Hope, Roshetar enrolled in a clinical trial for the immunotherapy drug Keytruda.

“I go every three weeks. It’s an infusion,” he said.

But when the stay at home orders hit, Roshetar said he felt concerned.

“I had reservations about even going to visit my daughter,” he said.

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City of Hope oncologist Dr. Joseph Alvarnas says a new study at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found the number of patients enrolling in new trials dropped by more than half during the pandemic peak.

“To some extent, we’ve seen some slight decreases,” Alvarnas said. “Clinical trials play such an important role in creating new options for people with cancer.”

One bright spot is that researchers found patients in trials like Roshetar have managed to maintain their treatments. Strict safety protocols make him feel safe.
“Don’t not come to the hospital because you’re worried about COVID-19, because you’re not going to get coronavirus there,” he said.

“Centers like ours have learned to be more and more creative about what we can do remotely. And I expect that kind of change to persist as we move forward,” Alvarnas said.

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When possible, trial investigators can deliver medications and virtual visits are making participation more convenient.

“The barrier to entry, the barrier to getting that fundamental knowledge is far easier to navigate now after the changes made during the pandemic,” Alvarnas said.

Roshetar says fear shouldn’t stop patients from looking for new treatments.

“You have to know that there is always hope,” he said.

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