Physician communication and encouragement are vital if the US is to overcome the serious dearth of cancer patients enrolling for clinical trials, a new study concludes.

Researchers from the Coalition of Cooperative Cancer Groups and Northwestern University conducted a survey of attitudes to clinical trials among 1,788 cancer survivors in March and April 2005. The results of the study, which was supported by unrestricted educational grants from Amgen, C-Change and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, were announced at the recent 43rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, US.

At present, only 3%-5% of adult cancer patients in the USA participate in oncology trials. But the study found that 65% of the cancer survivors surveyed would have been somewhat or very receptive to enrolling in an oncology clinical trial had they been made aware of the possibility at the time of their initial diagnosis. Moreover, 87% would have considered taking part in a trial if their initial treatment had failed.

Of those cancer survivors who did enroll in a clinical trial, the survey revealed, 84% were encouraged by their physician to participate, while 83% said their physician had also made a determined effort to help them find a suitable trial.

By contrast, all of the cancer survivors who declined to consider enrolling in a clinical trial said they were discouraged by their physician from taking part, with the majority indicating that their physician made little effort either to educate them on the pros and cons of trial participation (69%) or to help them find a suitable trial (67%). Of those patients who tried unsuccessfully to enroll in a cancer trial, only 7% said their physician encouraged them to participate and 11% that the physician tried to help them find a suitable trial.

“Clearly, there is an enormous disparity between patient receptivity to cancer clinical trials and overall enrolment,” commented Dr John Miller, co-primary investigator in the study. “The data from our study show that physician communication and encouragement are essential to closing this enrolment gap.”