Clinical Trials Are Key to Comprehensive Cancer Care

Photo of doctor and patient

Patients receiving treatment at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center not only receive comprehensive care from a multi-disciplinary team of experts with support from clinical and patient navigators, they may also be eligible for something many hospitals can’t offer: access to clinical trials. 

Photo of Puja Nistala, MD
Puja Nistala, MD

MU Health Care oncologist Puja Nistala, MD, coordinates the breast cancer clinical trials at Ellis Fischel. She explains the importance of this offering and what it means for patients.

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials involve people with cancer who volunteer to take part in research studies. Those studies may examine new drugs, new devices or use current medications in new ways. All of the advances in cancer care and today’s standard treatments are only available thanks to the countless participants who volunteered to participate in clinical trials. Today’s clinical trials are advancing the cancer care of tomorrow.

How do clinical trials work?

All clinical trials have phases before Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for marketing. Each phase is designed to answer a specific question. Phase 1 studies seek to learn about the new drug’s safety and side effects and to determine the highest doses that can be given safely. Phase 2 studies examine a drug’s effectiveness. Phase 3 trials compare the safety and effectiveness of the new drug against the current standard treatment. Phase 4 studies gather more data about the safety of drugs that have been approved by the FDA.

What are the benefits for patients?

A clinical trial offers patients options in addition to the standard treatments that are already available. Nationally accepted cancer treatment guidelines state that the best treatment option for cancer patients is a clinical trial.

Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is committed to advancing cancer care by offering the patients the best treatment possible. Clinical trials also offer patients the ability to participate in advancing the science of cancer care and to do good for the community. 

How is a patient’s participation determined?

When we see a patient, the first question I ask is whether there is something more I can do for this patient beyond our current established treatment at this point? Depending on their health concerns and risk factors, we see if a clinical trial would be a good fit. It is up to the patient to decide whether to participate.

We provide each patient the information needed, the advantages and the disadvantages. We make sure all questions are addressed so each patient can make a truly informed decision. 

How are new clinical trials identified?

We are constantly on the lookout for exciting and promising new compounds and areas to explore. We also participate heavily in the scientific research and trials through the National Cancer Institute. We have a clinical trials office that assists us with identifying the trials. We follow a process to present to our protocol review committee meeting, where several doctors sit together and assess the scientific merit, the feasibility, infrastructure resources and needs.

Once trials of particular scientific and therapeutic interest are identified, we have a team in our clinical trials office that, together with our physician investigators, conduct and run the trials. 

How many clinical trials does Ellis Fischel offer?

We currently have at least eight clinical trials available or open to enrollment for breast cancer. One study that is very exciting involves examining whether immunotherapy and standard chemotherapy can benefit patients battling triple-negative breast cancer, which is the most aggressive type of breast cancer.

In all, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center has access to more than 70 trials available or open to enrollment involving many different types of cancer. The Ellis Fischel Cancer Center clinical trials program is growing to open additional trials to better meet the needs of mid-Missouri.