Dr. Peter Shaw, Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology (AYA) Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that cancer patients 15-40 years old have had inferior survival rates over the past three decades.
"One of the reasons [for that] is the young adult populations and adolescents are less likely to be in clinical trials than pediatric patients and also older adult patients," Shaw said.
Shaw established a unified program of pediatric and adult cancer specialists at AYA, and found that patients were significantly more likely to enroll in a clinical trial through the program. 33% of patients who were studied enrolled in a clinical trial through the AYA program, while three years prior to the program's establishment, only 4% in the same age range participated.
He said one of the ways to increase clinical trial enrollment for adolescents and young adults is to improve collaboration between hospitals and cancer centers across the nation. He noted that sometimes his collaborative efforts might seem like competition, but stressed his overarching goal is to improve care for patients no matter where they are treated.
"There's definitely room for improvement, and my strategy to improve it is to engage more and more of the oncologists in the medical oncology community who are seeing these patients as frontline doctors and really come to them as a collaborator, not someone who is perceived as trying to take patients," Shaw said.
Shaw said patients are hesitant to enroll in clinical trials because they do not want to be a guinea pig, but said trials are a win-win for the treatment centers and the patients.
"For the patients, they get access to the cutting-edge therapy," Shaw said. "For the oncology centers, they raise their profile and they also improve their clinical trial enrollment data, which is very important, particularly in the eyes of the National Cancer Institute."