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When your child gets cancer, is a clinical trial the right choice?

The University of Michigan Health System
The University of Michigan
The University of Michigan Health System.

When a child gets sick, there are few scarier words in the English language for a parent than cancer.

Once that word comes out of a doctor’s mouth, there are lots questions to be asked, and even more decisions to be made. Few of them are easy.

One of those difficult questions is whether you want your child to be a part of a clinical trial.

Laura Sedig, a pediatric hematology/oncology fellow at the University of Michigan, joined Stateside to talk about clinical trials for childhood cancer and the options for parents faced with making this difficult decision.

There are three phases for clinical trials. Phase one determines whether a drug is safe to use, and if it passes that test, it moves to phase two to see if the drug is effective. In phase three, the drug is tested against the current standard of care to see how it compares.

We know that over the course of the past several decades that we've been doing this ... that our rates of survival have slowly improved over time

The question becomes, would a parent be passing up a better standard of care if they choose to be a part of a phase-three clinical trial?

“They look at the best outcome from the previous clinical trial and they compare that against the new arm of treatment,” said Sedig. “And so usually, at this point, most of the treatment is the same between the two groups, so the backbone is the same with only a small difference. We don’t think they’re passing up the best option, and if we think that the standard arm is the best for that patient, then we won’t offer them the trial at all.”

In a phase-three clinical trial, different patients are receiving different treatments, which can lead to slightly different results. While the differences in treatments are usually very minimal, in a way, it can be considered a bit of a gamble when trying to choose whether to take part. But overall, according to Sedig, the trials have proven to be very important because they have produced positive results and could lead to further improvements over time.

“We know that over the course of the past several decades that we’ve been doing this … that our rates of survival have slowly improved over time, in large part, due to this coordinated effort and carefully planned clinical trials,” said Sedig.

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about clinical trials and what parents need to keep in mind if they are ever faced with this situation.  

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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