Cutting-edge cancer treatments trialled
Published at: 01 Nov 2019
FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEARS GOULBURN VALLEY HEALTH’S PETER COPULOS CANCER & WELLNESS CENTRE HAS SUCCESSFULLY RUN CLINICAL TRIALS FOR CANCER RESEARCH. THE TRIALS ALLOW PATIENTS FROM THE REGION TO EXPLORE THEIR OPTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO CANCER TREATMENT.
GV Health’s oncology department is currently conducting a number of clinical trials for patients diagnosed with cancer.
Clinical Director of Oncology Javier Torres said the trials began around five years ago and even included international trials engaging with Europe and the United States.
“It’s an option for the patients to have the standard of treatment … plus something else that is not proven yet but could be beneficial in the future,” he said.
“We know that the clinical trials improve the survival of our patients.”
He said the trials enabled many patients to be treated at the Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre rather than having to travel to Melbourne or other regional centres, which could be difficult.
Dr Torres said there had already been some successful trials conducted at the centre with many patients doing well after engaging in a clinical trial.
“It’s a very good opportunity for patients to have their treatment locally — here in Shepparton,” he said.
“Because we’ve got expertise here…from the medical point of view to non-medical as well.”
Dr Torres said patients engaged with the trials through a number of different ways, including coming through the
Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre, being referred on from a private health care provider or their GP or other medical services.
“We’re part of something called the Regional Trial Network,” he said.
Dr Torres said there was also a smartphone app available to search clinical trials across the state.
“It’s called the Victorian Cancer Trials Link app,” he said.
“The patients can go there and look for trials locally and … everywhere.”
Patients can search for clinical trials via the Victorian Cancer Trials Link (VCTL) website at trials.cancervic.org.au/
The Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre is currently conducting a number of trials for different cancers, according to Clinical Trials Coordinator Carole Mott, with a new one about to start.
“We currently have trials running at Goulburn Valley Health for various cancer types, including breast, colorectal, gastric and oesophageal, lung and renal cancers,” she said.
"Each trial has multiple patients taking part," Dr Torres said.
“That is how the medications are
proven to be working.”
He explained the trials would open up for recruitment and also closed off at some point, but some patients could remain on the treatments on an ongoing basis.
Dr Torres said the centre was also currently trialling immunotherapy — a treatment that focuses on strengthening the immune system to attack certain cancer cells.
PATIENTS SHARE THEIR STORIES
John Hickey was unable to continue with his clinical trial after he was required to travel to Melbourne to complete the next stage.
After being diagnosed with bowel cancer four years ago, Mr Hickey said the cancer had already spread to other parts of his body.
He explained the initial clinical trial he participated in, conducted at GV Health’s Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre, was used as a way to treat the cancer that had spread.
Mr Hickey, who travels to Shepparton for treatment from his home near Echuca, said he had two options with the trial.
The first was a combination of chemotherapies while the second was a combination of chemotherapy and taking a tablet.
“It was meant to have less side effects,” he said.
The trialled treatment worked successfully, according to Mr Hickey, for around 12 months.
But he did not wish to continue with the trial given he needed to travel to Melbourne to complete the next stage.
“I’m quite happy to come (to Shepparton),” he said but added he found driving in the city daunting and travelling there for treatment did not appeal to his lifestyle.
Mr Hickey said he would continue to receive treatment at the Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre.
“Now I’ve just got to see how I go,” he said.
Doug Ferremi was initially told he would have four months to live without receiving cancer treatment or 12 months with treatment.
Diagnosed with stage four cancer in Melbourne, Mr Ferremi had cancer cells in his liver and lymph glands.
Heading back home to Shepparton for his treatment, it was an encounter with the Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre than changed the outcomes of his survival.
Mr Ferremi was provided information on the clinical trial and decided to participate.
In his 80s, Mr Ferremi was informed he was more than capable of engaging in a trial which included Folfox treatment.
Initially taking a combination of chemotherapy in the chair as well as a bottle he took home with him, Mr Ferremi said he now only requires the bottle.
“Since I’ve had the chemo there’s been no signs,” he said.
“I feel good … it’s excellent.”
While there was no guarantee and Mr Ferremi’s cancer could return again tomorrow, he continued to have a positive attitude and got regular scans every six weeks.
“I’m still here and I’m going good,” he said.
Fearful that her breast cancer would return, Diane Eddy began a clinical trial where she took two tablets each day.
The Shepparton woman said she visited the health service for regular blood tests and ECGs as part of the trial.
She explained how she engaged with the treatment to begin with.
“I was at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and I was really concerned my cancer was going to come back,” she said.
“I wanted a double mastectomy but they said there was such a small chance of it coming back.”
It was then she decided to start the trial, just five weeks after her breast cancer was removed.
She said for the first two months of the trial she had to regularly check her heart via an ECG.
This required a blood test and an ECG prior to taking the medication and two hours after taking the medication on a fortnightly basis.
Ms Eddy laughed and said she often got so held up talking to people she knew at Peter Copulos Cancer & Wellness Centre that the two hours would often pass while she was still at the health service.
“Now I’m just on a monthly (visit) schedule,” she said.
Ms Eddy said she took the two tablets each day for a 21-day cycle and then had five days off the medication before starting the cycle again.
For her, engaging in the trial just made sense.
“I was always happy to take something on top of what I needed to take,” she said.
“You’ve got to have people willing to take part in trials.”
Beth said it was fantastic she did not have to travel to Melbourne to engage in a clinical trial.
She began her fifth cycle of a clinical trial to treat lung cancer this week and said she had not had any tumour pain since.
“The doctor said I was stable,” she said.
Beth explained what the trial involved.
“The drugs are supposed to complement each other,” she explained.
“One of the drugs boosts the cells that fight off the cancer.
“It’s so good they’ve brought it up here (to Shepparton).”
She said she decided to take part in the trial after her doctor spoke to her and told her she would be a good candidate.
Beth explained that if she did travel to Melbourne to get the treatment, she would have to travel down the night before due to the length of time it took.
“The treatment knocks you about as it is,” she said.
“To have it available in the country has made it a lot easier.”
Beth said she would be on the treatment indefinitely.
“As long as everything is going well,” she said.
Full name not used for privacy reasons.