FirstHealth Clinical Opportunities Include Heart, Cancer
When they think about clinical trials, most people probably think of large university hospitals.
But did you know that clinical trials are happening in your own backyard at FirstHealth of the Carolinas?
FirstHealth offers a range of clinical trials opportunities covering cardiovascular care, cancer treatment and prevention, and gynecologic care in partnership with the region's medical providers.
But, you may be thinking, exactly what are clinical trials? Chris Miller, director of the FirstHealth program, likes to think of clinical trials as research treatment opportunities. Specifically, they are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people, each answering scientific questions and trying to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease.
"Through these treatment opportunities, FirstHealth and our excellent community of medical providers provide a unique chance for our residents to access cutting-edge treatments," Miller says. "Most residents of rural areas don't have access to these opportunities without traveling great distances. Also, research treatments provide access to some of the latest medical care at less cost than standard care."
Dr. Ellen Willard, a principal investigator for cancer trials at FirstHealth, agrees.
"It's a great partnership working with FirstHealth to offer the same clinical trials to our community that are found at larger cancer centers," she says. "Without these trials, some of our patients would not be able to access care that is critical to their ability to fight their disease or improve their quality of life. Patients participating in a cancer clinical trial are receiving, at minimum, the current standard of care."
A specific trial being conducted at FirstHealth by Dr. John Byron, the study's principal investigator, involves the search for new ways to improve bone health after surgical menopause. Women who choose to have their ovaries removed before menopause due to various health reasons experience immediate menopause due to loss of estrogen in the body.
Lack of estrogen can cause a variety of side effects, one of which is bone loss, and substantial bone loss can lead to a higher risk of bone fracture.
Byron's study is being conducted to determine if a medicine called Zometa can prevent or decrease bone loss due to early menopause.
"Although no direct benefits to your bone health are known at this time, we do know that the information from this study will help doctors learn more about the medication and its impact on preventing bone loss," Byron says. "It is a rare opportunity for a community of our size to have access to treatment opportunities of this kind to learn and improve care for women at risk of bone loss and fracture."
FirstHealth recently expanded its Clinical Trials program to include cardiovascular studies. Dr. Peter Duffy is the principal investigator for a study looking at the frequency, timing and risk factors associated with the development of stent thrombosis (a clot in an artery-opening stent) in cardiac patients. About 11,000 people are expected to be involved in this research project internationally, and patient participation will last up to five years.
Dr. Patrick Simpson is the principal investigator for the XIENCE V EXCEED Trial, a study evaluating "real world" cardiac cath lab use of a specific coronary stent system. At least 4,000 patients in as many as 150 hospitals in the U.S. are expected to take part in this trial.
While clinical trials provide knowledge that contributes to the fight against various diseases, they may not always immediately benefit patients, according to Miller. Instead, people who participate in clinical trials have an opportunity to contribute to the knowledge of, and progress against, various health conditions. Each study tries to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose and/or treat diseases and their side effects.
"Although this is an altruistic point of view, it is only through clinical trials that doctors and researchers are able to find solutions to difficult medical problems," Miller says.
"Sometimes, what doctors think is going to be a better treatment turns out to be not as good or about the same as or even less effective than the current treatment. That's part of the risk of participating in a clinical trial -- it may not help you. Only you can decide if the benefits to your health are greater than the risks. It's important to talk with your doctor to ask questions about things that concern you, and to weigh all of your options."
To learn more about clinical trials, call (910) 715-2200 or go online to www.clinicaltrials.gov.
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