Elizabeth MacFarlane

Clinical trials build knowledge and care

Elizabeth MacFarlane
Recurrence is always at the back of your mind. With the study, they’ll follow me for 10 years and that’s reassuring.

When Elizabeth MacFarlane was asked if she would participate in a breast cancer clinical trial, she immediately said, “‘Sign me up.’ I was thinking about my stepdaughters and my nieces.” The Fredericton salesperson was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in late 2012. She had had 2 surgeries and was about to start preventive radiation.

The study is comparing the effectiveness of a radiation dose delivered over the course of 3.5 weeks and 5 weeks.

“In this trial, our patients have shorter fractionation schedules – which means we’re giving them the same dose in less time,” explains Dr Eshwar Kumar, oncologist and co-CEO of the New Brunswick Cancer Network and the trial’s investigator at Saint John Regional Hospital. “Shorter treatment schedules help optimize resources, and fewer visits to the hospital for radiation treatment does positively impact on the patient’s quality of life.”

Saint John is one of 17 study locations across Canada. Participating in trials is a lot of work – from preparing the ethics review submission to recruiting patients to reporting results – but the benefits are significant, says Dr Kumar. “Clinical trial protocols are a great quality initiative that can bring new methods of treatment into our centre,” he says. “Medical professionals have to learn how to use new drugs and new techniques. By using them as part of a study, you enhance your knowledge and gain expertise in a well-designed and controlled way, with appropriate monitoring.”

For Elizabeth, participation in the study brings her peace of mind. “I’m beyond grateful,” she says. “Recurrence is always at the back of your mind. With the study, they’ll follow me for 10 years and that’s reassuring.”

Elizabeth describes her cancer journey as “overwhelming.” But, she adds, the medical system was fabulous and she’s pleased to give back through the study and by donating to the Society. “It’s so important that we have clinical trials and that there’s awareness and knowledge.”

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