Avera Medical Minute: Improving cancer treatment through clinical trials

Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 9:33 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A cancer diagnosis is life-changing.

When it comes to treatment, chemotherapy likely comes to mind, however participating in a clinical trial can be another option in some cases.

It’s also a way to help improve cancer treatments.

One woman shares why she got involved in a clinical trial during her cancer journey.

Avera patient Mary Askren was diagnosed with endometrial cancer back in 2020, but that diagnosis didn’t stop her from enjoying life and accomplishing goals.

“Cancer made me think about what my priorities were, so I retired from my job — I was a journalist — and I’ve taken on projects just for the fun of it. I also have a very dear friend who is a rancher, and we’ve had time to spend together that we wouldn’t have had time otherwise,” said Askren.

In fact, she even wrote a book to help others in their cancer journey.

“It’s basically spiritual insights — how you can navigate cancer as a spiritual journey,” said Askren.

She credits being able to do these things to the clinical trial she participated in.

“NRG-GY018 — it’s a clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute, and it’s for a population of women with stage 4 and recurrent endometrial cancer,” said Natasha Flier, senior clinical research coordinator at Avera Cancer Institute.

“The clinical trial was comparing the most common standard-of-care chemotherapies which use two compounds with or against the two compounds with an immunotherapy drug,” said Dr. Luis Rojas, gynecologic oncologist with Avera Medical Group.

Dr. Rojas says clinical trials are common and can not only benefit patients but also provide information for future cancer care.

“Some of us believe that cancer care without clinical trials is really not possible. Clinical trials do offer access to the best therapies, or the therapies of the future in current times,” said Rojas.

“We’re always striving to get better treatments, more effective, better-tolerated treatments, and without clinical trials, we would be unable to do that,” said Flier.

While it can take several years to determine the overall success of a clinical trial, Dr. Rojas says in the one Mary participates in, there are some results available.

“There is a measurement that we call the progression-free survival, so it is the time from when we finish the therapy, to when the cancer comes back again. In that study, I’m not going to quote any numbers, but that progression-free survival was significantly extended for the patients that had the immunotherapy compound along with the two standard-of-care drugs,” Rojas said.

“Dr. Rojas says there’s no evidence of the cancer,” said Eskren.

“At this point, she continues to be in remission, and I just continue to follow her up. She has passed above and beyond the expected outcome for somebody that had an advanced stage serious endometrial cancer with disease that couldn’t be removed in certain areas, so she’s done exceptionally well,” said Rojas.

Clinical trials are a way to improve cancer care and quality of life for people like Mary.

This clinical trial is closed. Just over 800 people across the United States participated in it. To learn more, visit avera.org/medicalminute.