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Not enough cancer doctors refer patients to clinical trials

Recruiting cancer patients to participate in clinical trials can be a challenge for researchers, and a recently published study hints that this could be due, in part, to the fact that many physicians aren't telling their patients about the studies. The researchers surveyed 1,533 cancer doctors and found that only 56.7 percent had referred or enrolled at least one person in a clinical trial during the past year. As WebMD reports:

The new study puts a number on something that the medical community has been aware of for a long time, says Leonard Saltz, MD, a medical oncologist specializing in colorectal cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

“The minor problem is that patients are declining the study, but the major problem is that patients are not being offered the studies,” he says.

There are many reasons that doctors may fail to mention available clinical trials, Saltz says.

“It may be that a doctor doesn’t have access to trials, and the patient would have to leave their practice to participate or have to travel,” he says. “It may be that the doctor is simply unaware of what clinical trials are out there, and it takes a lot of time to find out, and that is not time that anyone reimburses them for.”

Writing that the role of physicians in recruiting patients to clinical trials is "pivotal," the researchers outlined several strategies to increase physician participation. These include the greater use of information technology (so that clinicians are aware of studies) and a greater emphasis on developing trials that have relevance to current clinical practice (which could increase doctors’ interest in the study).

The study appeared online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on Friday.

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