CLINICAL TRIALS FOR BRAIN TUMORS
By Terri Armstrong, RN, MS, NP, CS
Neuro-Oncology Nurse Practitioner
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
(Last Updated October 1997 Written For The National Brain Tumor Foundation. Reprinted here with permission)
What is meant by a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are a method designed to scientifically determine the effectiveness of various treatment regimens. Clinical trials for brain tumors most often evaluate chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or biologic therapy. These studies consist
of four phases used in the evaluation of investigational drugs that may have therapeutic indications for patients.
What are the "phases"?
When determining whether you want to participate in a clinical trial,
it is important to understand what is meant by the "phase" of the study.
Researchers group treatments into "phases" based on the known
information about the treatment and what information they are seeking.
The search for brain tumor therapy begins with treatments first being
evaluated in research laboratories and on animals. This initial research
lays a groundwork, but can’t predict exactly how a treatment will work with
brain tumor patients.
The "phases" group treatments into what question the researcher is trying to answer. The following describes the
primary goal of the various phases of clinical trials.
Who conducts clinical trials?
Determination of safe drug doses and/or schedules of a new drug when given to people. The treatment has not been evaluated in people with brain tumors before. The main goal is to determine what is the safe dose of medication and what side effects the person experiences. The treatment is considered promising for treating brain tumors, but evaluating response
is not the primary goal of the study. Patients get a specific
dose of drug(s) and are carefully observed for side effects.
Determination of therapeutic efficacy. The safe dose of medication has already been determined, and the researcher wants to determine whether the treatment
shrinks the tumor and extends the person’s survival.
Comparison of the drug to an existing, effective standard
therapy. In this "phase," the person can receive either the experimental treatment or the standard treatment. A computer randomly assigns the person to a treatment. This process is called randomization. The researcher does not know which treatment is best, therefore preventing bias in determining which treatment the person will receive. In this way, the
treatment can be compared directly to a standard treatment
to determine which is a better approach to therapy.
Clinical trials are conducted by various institutions and groups. Each clinical trial follows a treatment plan or
"protocol." These protocols are defined by the researchers
initiating the clinical trial, and undergo close scrutiny at each institution or
hospital by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB reviews a clinical trial to be sure it is designed with safeguards to protect people who participate and to prevent significant risks. The following lists the various groups that may initiate a clinical trial.
How do I choose a clinical trial?
- Institutions:Individual institutions or hospitals conduct studies of various drugs. The individual or group of researchers at that institution may first try a treatment in the research laboratory and then proceed to testing with people with brain tumors. Institutional trials may be Phase I, II, or III.
- NCI Sponsored CNS Consortia: These are groups of specialized brain tumor centers from around the United States that receive funding to test innovative new treatments for brain tumors. There are currently two consortia that are made up of multiple medical centers; one consortia is based at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and the other is based at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. These groups test new treatments in Phase I and II testing.
- National Cooperative Groups: These groups consist of both
university and community hospitals throughout the United States.
The goal is to test new treatments for both efficacy and the ability
to be done in a community setting. These groups include
The Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG);
The Southwestern Oncology Group (SWOG);
The Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG);
and the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG).
Pediatric Groups include the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) and
the Children’s Cancer Group (CCG). These
groups test treatments in Phase II and III testing.
- Pharmaceutical Sponsored Multi-Institutional Trials:
Individual pharmaceutical companies often form consortia of hospitals
to investigate a drug which they have developed. These trials can
be Phase I, II, or III depending on the level of knowledge of that
drug for brain tumors.
People chose to take part in clinical trials for various reasons, whether to try an innovative treatment, hope for a cure, to attempt to
feel better, or to assist in helping others in the future. If you are thinking about participating in a
clinical trial, there are multiple trials to choose.
Which trial is best for you is dependent on several factors, including:
Most trials have specific restrictions based on the above criteria.
Use all the resources that you can to assist you in your decision.
When deciding, there are several questions you should ask about
the particular clinical trial:
- what typeof tumor you have(or histologic grade)
- when you were diagnosed
- what treatments you have received
- how well you are functioning
Obtaining answers to all of the above questions can help you determine if the treatment is right for you. There are no bad questions when learning about your treatment options. Learning as much as you can before starting a treatment will help you to be prepared for what occurs.
- Who is conducting the study? Is it the individual institution, or is it a part of anational trial?
- At what institutions is the study being conducted? Is there an institution closer to home? Does the center have a designated neuro-oncology (or brain tumor) program?
- What is the phase of the study? Has it been tested on people with brain tumors before?
- What tests, treatments, hospital stay, and commitment of time does the study involve?
- What other choices are available? How does the study treatment compare?
- What potential side effects may occur and how can it affect day-to-day life?
- What does the treatment cost and is any part provided for free?
Which is the best clinical trial available?
Being diagnosed with a brain tumor often thrusts you and your family into
an unfamiliar world. There has been an explosion of new treatments for brain tumors, and it is difficult to find the information quickly and choose the treatment which is right for you. As new clinical trials are opening
frequently, it is impossible to be sure which is the "best"
There have been recent trends in brain tumor treatment which
focus on a whole new approach to treatment. While it is impossible to say which
treatment is the best, the following lists the most current trends in brain tumor
treatment. Some of these treatments are very new, and only in Phase I testing.
While promising, the actual effect they will have on tumors is unknown.
This approach allows the researcher to focus on certain
characteristics which allow tumors to grow. This group of agents work by preventing new blood vessel formation, thereby preventing tumor growth. Most agents are currently in Phase I testing, and toxicities (side effects) as well as effect
on tumor growth are not yet known.
What is it like to take part in a
Current clinical trials utilizing gene therapy are aimed at modifying tumor behavior.
For example, trials are being organized that inject genes directly into the
tumor bed. The gene is designed to stimulate programmed cell death.
These studies are in early Phase I testing and results are not known.
This treatment (e.g. retinoids) affect the tumor by causing tumor cells to behave
more like the nonmalignant form of the cell. Hopefully, this will slow the rate
of growth of the tumor. These agents are undergoing early Phase I and
Phase II trials.
Novel Routes of Chemotherapy:
Several different methods of delivering chemotherapy (i.e. by disrupting the blood
brain barrier, by continuous infusion, or direct instillation of chemotherapy into
the tumor) are currently being tested with brain tumors. These trials are
in Phase I, II, and III testing.
If you participate, the first step is called informed consent.
Informed consent means that if you elect to participate in the trial,
you fully understand the risks and benefits of the treatment and freely elect
to take part. You will then be asked to sign a consent form. This does not
mean that you cannot leave the trial, but only that you understand the
You may elect to leave a clinical trial at any point in the process.
During the course of the clinical trial, you will be evaluated closely and required
to report symptoms that you experience. This may require extra physical
examinations, tests, or filling out forms. The informed consent form will
outline this for you.
Where can I get more information
about clinical trials and treatments for brain tumors?
The following can offer you information about clinical
trials as well as information about some specific treatments.
National Brain Tumor Foundation: 800-934-CURE (2873)
The National Brain Tumor Foundation (NBTF) was founded in 1981 as a non-profit organization by people whose lives were affected by brain tumor disease.
NBTF provides support services for patients and their families and raises funds
for research to treat and cure brain tumors.
Cancer Information Services: 800-4-CANCER (226237)
Children’s Cancer Group
Clinical Trials and Noteworthy Treatments for Brain Tumors
Pediatric Oncology Group
For more information call
|National Brain Tumor Foundation|
|785 Market Street, Suite 1600, San Francisco, CA 94103 |
|Tel: (415) 284-0208|
|Fax: (415) 284-0209 |
|Web Site: http://www.braintumor.org|