Clinical Trials: Treatment for One, Hope for Many

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Many trials cover the cost of expensive tests and treatments, and even subsidize travel to and from the trial centers. Weintraub said the trials actually helped mitigate her out-of-pocket expenses (which could have reached $10,000) by covering the cost of expensive drugs and frequent tests.

"All that data is all sent to my primary care doctor, my oncologist," she said. "Everyone is on board with the program. You're so closely monitored."

So much so that her primary care doctor once said a routine exam was unnecessary.

"He told me there was no need, and to save my money," she said. "Thank you, clinical trial."

As for the time commitment, Weintraub said, one trial (studying genetics) required that she fill out a few forms and give some blood. Another (studying vision) had her take eye drops and come in for two check-ups.

"Usually, it's not that big a deal," Weintraub said, adding that she often had to give blood for other tests anyway.

Importance of Doctor Support

Weintraub said her doctor's enthusiasm about the trials made her confident in her decision. But not all doctors are so keen.

"Doctors generally don't like to admit that we don't know the right answer," researcher Love said. "And a 'trial' implies that we don't know the right answer."

Lack of awareness and worries about time burdens and paperwork dissuade doctors from recommending trials, too, Bedlack said. Many doctors go with the standard treatments, and don't even mention trials unless asked.

"When you're first diagnosed, you're scared to death and you'll pretty much do whatever anyone tells you," Love said. "You desperately want the doctor to have the answer, but the way medicine progresses is by us continuously doing these kinds of studies."

Certain websites, such as clinicaltrials.gov and cancer.gov, have information about ongoing trials and how to get involved. But women diagnosed with breast cancer have limited time to make a treatment decision, and searching for a trial might not be at the forefront of their minds, Love said.

To make it easier to get involved, Love teamed up with Avon to launch the Army of Women; an effort to recruit 1 million women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to participate in breast cancer research.

"What we're hoping to do is develop a way that if they're diagnosed, they let us know and we can let them know about opportunities," Love said. "That way the information gets out there in more of a 'push' way as opposed to women having to search it out."

Weintraub now designs, manufactures and sells Cool Garments for Hot Women -- moisture wicking sleepwear for women who have night sweats because of breast cancer or menopause. She uses other breast-cancer survivors as models, and donates a portion of every sale to breast-cancer research.

She said she'll continue to help move medicine forward by participating in trials and encourages others to do the same.

"It's so important," she said.

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