Health & Medicine

‘Massive change’ in cancer treatment: Patients choosing drugs in early test stage as first option

The older Cancer Center, left , is joined by a glass enclosed bridge connecting the new UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center on September 24, 2012 in Sacramento, Calif.
The older Cancer Center, left , is joined by a glass enclosed bridge connecting the new UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center on September 24, 2012 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

If you still think of a Phase 1 clinical trial as something a cancer patient should consider only after all other options have failed, then you’re in for a surprise if you attend Saturday’s Community Cancer Symposium in Elk Grove.

Massive changes have taken place in the oncology arena, and UC Davis Health Center’s Kristina Curl Johnston and other experts will share the latest benefits for patients at the symposium. Johnston said a key difference for patients is that they now can opt to try a drug in a Phase 1 clinical trial as their first treatment option rather than going with an older chemotherapy treatment.

“Massive change is happening,” Johnston said. “Phase 1...used to mean, ‘Gosh, I have nothing left for you. This is the end of the road, but you’re still fit enough to try it. Do you want to donate yourself to science?’ That’s essentially what they were asking people to do. Now, there’s a real hope of getting an actual response in the Phase 1 setting.”

All Phase 1 trials still look at how effectively the drugs work, said Johnston, the program manager for the Sacramento Citywide Oncology Phase I Pogram at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Also known as SCOPE, the program sends a list of ongoing Phase 1 trials weekly to medical oncologists at Sutter, Dignity, Kaiser Permanente and Sierra Hematology Oncology. Johnston arrived in 2016 to coordinate community-wide participation in Phase 1 clinical trials.

“When I first came on, there was maybe about 20 percent of the local physicians engaged in sending patients over for Phase 1 research,” she said. “Since I’ve come on, there are only four physicians in this region who really don’t participate too much. Everybody else is calling and asking, ‘Is there a trial for my patient?’”

Before oncologists give chemotherapy, she said, they want to know whether there’s something with more promise. New drugs have changed the landscape, Johnston said. They are more tolerable than chemotherapy, she said, and yet they have routed cancer cells from bone marrow.

Johnston will discuss how to find clinical trials, how to get into them and how insurance works at the Community Cancer Symposium, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at 8939 E. Stockton Blvd. in Elk Grove. She is one of several speakers who will discuss challenges and success in cancer treatment, and cancer survivors will discuss how they survived the journey and found many free resources to help them heal.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

Community Cancer Symposium 2017

What: Expert panelists from major local hospitals will discuss the latest cancer treatments for children and adults.Walk-ins are welcome.

When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday

Where: Creekside Christian Church, 8939 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove

Cost: Free

Contact: Bob Rose, (916) 599-7820 or rjejrose@frontier.com

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