Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Every day VCU Massey Cancer Center is discovering new and better ways to treat and prevent cancer. One way in which Massey conducts research is through clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate new medical treatments and devices and increase scientific understanding of a wide variety of diseases.

These trials are important because of the advances in cancer medicine that come from new ideas and approaches developed through research. A vast majority of treatments that are standard today were first shown to be effective in clinical trials.

One of only two cancer centers in Virginia designated by the National Cancer Institute to lead and shape the nation’s fight against cancer, Massey is partially funded by the NCI to conduct research in the labs and in clinical trials to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

“To maintain our NCI designation, we must show that we make new discoveries in regard to cancer and also translate that basic research into clinical applications,” said Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center. “This presents a huge advantage to patients throughout our region. For patients whose cancers do not have an effective treatment, this makes protocols available to them years before they become standard practice.”

Patients who choose to enroll in clinical trials at Massey receive some significant benefits for participating. First, these patients will gain access to promising drugs, medical devices or treatment approaches before the general public. Patients will have a more active role in their own health care and will receive expert medical care. Physicians, nurses and other health care professionals closely monitor patients’ health and side effects during the trial. Some patients will also get free or subsidized health care for the duration of the trial.

“We believe every patient should have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials because they might be able to benefit from a therapy that is more effective than current standard-of-care protocols,” said Ginder.

The clinical trial team at Massey typically consists of doctors and nurses as well as social workers and other health care professionals. Many clinical trial participants also continue to work with their primary health care provider.

“Clinical trials are not just for patients who have ‘run out’ of options,” said John Roberts, M.D., associate director for clinical research at Massey. “Often a clinical trial is appropriate for a patient with a new diagnosis of cancer.”

One area of current cancer research is in combination therapy. There are several new combinations of drugs that are being used to treat several types of cancers. For example, one of Massey’s clinical trials tests the combination of two specific drugs to determine if it is an effective treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer.

Another area of research interest is in image-guided radiation therapy trials for the treatment of prostate cancer. Because it is often difficult to establish the ideal amount of radiation patients should receive, research is being conducted to determine if image-guided radiation technology provides a better outcome.

The areas of research that Massey’s clinical trials span are numerous and varied — current trials are evaluating the latest treatments for more than 20 different cancer types, from brain and breast to prostate and leukemia. At any given time, Massey offers more than 150 clinical studies to adult and pediatric cancer patients, representing one of the largest offerings of cancer clinical research in Virginia.

“Choosing to participate in a clinical trial is an important personal decision,” said Sheldon Retchin, M.D., M.S.P.H., CEO of VCU Health System and VCU’s vice president for health sciences. “Many people participate in clinical trials because it’s an opportunity to help researchers find new ways to fight disease. Imagine being a part of discovering tomorrow’s treatments today.”