Discordant attitudes and beliefs about cancer clinical trial participation between physicians, research staff, and cancer patients

Hillyer, Grace A.; Beauchemin, Melissa; Hershman, Dawn L.; Kelsen, Moshe A.; Brogan, Frances L.; Sandoval, Rossy; Schmitt, Karen M.; Reyes, Andria; Terry, Mary Beth; Lassman, Andrew B.; Schwartz, Gary K.

Background/aims: Essential to bringing innovative cancer treatments to patients is voluntary participation in clinical trials but approximately 8% of American cancer patients are enrolled onto a trial. We used a domain-oriented framework to assess barriers to cancer clinical trial enrollment.

Methods: Physicians (MD, DO, fellows, residents) and research staff (physician assistants, nurse practitioners, staff and research nurses, clinical assistants, and program coordinators) involved in clinical research at a comprehensive cancer center completed an online survey in 2017; adult cancer patients not currently enrolled in a trial were interviewed in 2018. To inform the construct of our physician/staff and patient surveys and to assess barriers to clinical trial enrollment, we first conducted in-depth interviews among 14 key informants representing medical, hematologic, gynecologic, neurologic, radiation oncology, as well as members of the clinical research team (one clinical research coordinator, one research nurse practitioner). Perceived structural, provider- and patient-level barriers to clinical trial enrollment were assessed. Differences in perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward clinical trial enrollment between (1) physicians and staff, (2) patients by ethnicity, and (3) physicians/staff and patients were examined.

Results: In total, 120 physicians/staff involved in clinical research (39.2% physicians, 60.8% staff; 48.0% overall response rate) and 150 cancer patients completed surveys. Nearly three-quarters of physician/staff respondents reported difficulty in keeping track of the eligibility criteria for open studies but was more often cited by physicians than staff (84.4% vs 64.3%, p = 0.02). Physicians more often reported lack of time to present clinical trial information than did staff(p < 0.001); 44.0% of staff versus 18.2% of physicians reported patient family interaction as a clinical trial enrollment barrier (p = 0.007). Hispanic patients more often stated they would join a trial, even if standard therapy was an option compared to non-Hispanic patients (47.7% vs 20.8%, p = 0.002). Comparing the beliefs and perceptions of physicians/staff to those of patients, patients more often reported negative beliefs about clinical trial enrollment (e.g. being in a trial does not help patients personally, 32.9% vs 1.8%, p < 0.001) but less often felt they had no other options when agreeing to join (38.1% vs 85.6%, p < 0.001), and less often refused clinical trial enrollment due to lack of understanding (9.1% vs 63.3%, p = 0.001) than reported by physicians/staff.

Conclusion: Our findings indicate a wide gap between physician/staff and patient attitudes and beliefs about clinical trial enrollment and highlight the importance of focusing future initiatives to raise awareness of this incongruency. Reconciling these differences will require tailored education to reduce implicit biases and dispel misperceptions. Strategies to improve the quality of patient-provider communication and address infrastructure and resource issues are also needed to improve patient enrollment onto cancer clinical trials.


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Clinical Trials

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Academic Units
Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center
Published Here
November 6, 2020