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On National Cancer Survivors Day, celebrating the power of research

This Sunday, June 2, is National Cancer Survivors Day, designed to be a celebration for those who have survived cancer and an inspiration for those recently diagnosed. Since 1991, the national cancer death rate has dropped by 33%, partially due to advancements in treatment, early detection, and reduced smoking rates.

While this is a promising statistic, it is essential to note that two million individuals in the U.S. alone are likely to be diagnosed with cancer in 2024, and cancer remains one of the top causes of death worldwide. In this blog, we’ll discuss some critical ways medical research can impact these statistics and improve patients’ lives.

Participating in cancer clinical trials

There are many statistics surrounding clinical trials for cancer patients, but it is impactful to hear directly from participants about their experiences. Nina Beaty, an artist and art therapist, was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in 2014 and initially given a one-year prognosis. After other treatments failed, her doctor suggested she join a clinical trial — a suggestion that changed her life. 

“Once the chemo and radiation stopped working, I was offered the opportunity to screen for an immunotherapy trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering,” Nina told Antidote. “I was accepted, and the treatment has worked and continues to work. This trial is what really keeps me going. Literally.”

Barriers to clinical trial participation

While medical research can be life-changing, it is estimated that fewer than 5% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, although 70% of Americans report being very willing to participate. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that cancer patients who take part in clinical trials have higher survival rates, particularly after the first year of diagnosis — but unfortunately, limiting eligibility criteria can restrict patients’ ability to participate. While eligibility criteria can be essential to avoid skewing trial results, the authors recommended reducing eligibility criteria to increase patients’ access to studies.

In addition to strict eligibility criteria, limited awareness can also serve as a barrier to participation. Nonprofit organizations like the Melanoma Research Alliance, the Lung Cancer Foundation, the Lung Cancer Alliance, and many others are working to raise clinical trial awareness and get more patients into life-saving trials. While these research organizations celebrate improvements in survival rates, cancer continues to take far too many lives each year.

“Cancer is in fact a group of more than 100 diseases, some amenable to treatment; some stubbornly resistant. So while the average American’s chances of dying from the disease are significantly lower than at any time in our 100-year history, it continues to be all-too-often the reason for shortened lives, and too much pain and suffering,” said Gary Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, in a statement.

If you or a loved one are living with cancer and are interested in finding trial options, use the search tool below to find trial options you can discuss with your doctor.