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How patients can impact the future of cancer care and actively participate in their cancer journey

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 4:00 pm | Updated: 1:32 am, Fri Feb 14, 2014.

(BPT) - More than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society, with more than half a million Americans expected to die from it. While we have seen significant advances in cancer treatment over the past several years, the medical and scientific communities continue to strive to identify new and improved treatment approaches.

This means many clinical trials are evaluating targeted therapies directed to unique aspects of the disease. This is good news for patients and provides them with additional treatment options, enabling them to actively take part in their cancer journey.

Dan Parker was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in November 2003 at the age of 23. After experiencing symptoms including itchy skin, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats, he found a lump in his neck, which led to a visit to his doctor and ultimately a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Parker underwent a standard chemotherapy regimen and was cancer-free for two and a half years. But in 2006, his lymphoma returned and he decided to explore clinical trials. A clinical trial is a research study conducted to answer specific questions about a new treatment or therapeutic approach.

Parker participated in several clinical trials, including one incorporating brentuximab vedotin, the first in a new type of targeted therapies called antibody-drug conjugates, which are designed to deliver cell-killing agents directly to cancer cells.

“There is a misperception about clinical trials – that patients are treated like ‘test subjects’ – but in my experience, participating in clinical trials gave me access to treatments that I would otherwise not have received and provided me with a novel alternative option after standard treatments failed,” explains Parker. “A key to improving the treatment of cancers is having patients willing to participate in clinical trials.”

There are numerous cancer clinical trials underway, including three phase 3 clinical trials evaluating the therapy Parker received called brentuximab vedotin in Hodgkin lymphoma and certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“The goal of clinical research in cancer care is to find treatments that are less toxic and may work better than current therapies,” says Dr. Ajay Gopal, Parker’s doctor at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “I encourage all cancer patients to contact academic institutions in their area to explore treatment options through clinical trials.”

Facing a cancer diagnosis can be daunting, but there are five actions patients and caregivers can take to help along the journey, actively participate in their cancer care and potentially impact the future of cancer treatment.

1. Get all of the facts about your diagnosis.

There are many subtypes to all cancers. In Hodgkin lymphoma for example, there are six different subcategories and within non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there are more than 60 different subcategories. With recent medical advancements, doctors are evaluating certain therapies designed to target some specific types of cancer, so make sure you know all you can before you choose your treatment.

2. Explore all treatment options.

In addition to marketed drugs, there are many clinical trials underway evaluating new therapies for cancer. Ask your doctor if you might be right for a clinical trial or visit www.clinicaltrials.gov to see if there are ongoing trials for your disease.

3. Get a second opinion.

Choosing your treatment path is an important decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

New research shows that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, but it can improve how well you function physically and your quality of life. Diet also plays an important role, as research has shown that cancer patients who maintain a healthy weight and good nutritional state have fewer complications resulting in shorter hospital stays, reduced illness and a better sense of well-being. Work with your doctor to develop an appropriate diet and exercise plan for you before, during and after your treatment.

5. Don’t face cancer alone.

Regardless of the type of cancer you or a loved one is facing, there are support groups available. Research local and national advocacy groups online and ask your oncologists or nursing staff for recommendations.

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