Teen cancer patients face ‘concerning’ gap in clinical trial access

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TEENAGE cancer patients in Scotland could be missing out on crucial experimental treatments, according to a Sick Kids specialist.

Researchers have revealed that there were 534 trials for experimental cancer treatments suitable for 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK but only 152 were available north of the Border.

Just 19 of the available 39 cancer trials were open for children under 16 in Scotland, according to research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool today.

Campaigners have said the trial gap is “deeply concerning” for young Scots, who need treatment to be tailored as the biology of their cancers can be very different to those of adults. Study author Dr Angela Edgar, a clinician at the Sick Kids hospital and chair of the NCRI Teenage and Young Adults Clinical Studies Group, said: “Our study confirms that children and young adults in Scotland have fewer clinical trials available to them compared to the rest of the UK. “The 
reasons are likely to be complex, but we need to close this ‘trial gap’.

“The most disadvantaged are 16 to 24-year-olds. There are fewer trials for them to begin with and, unlike younger children, they are often treated at centres where trial recruitment in this age group may be unfamiliar and overlooked.”

Young adults with cancer are offered treatment across multiple hospitals in Scotland, so that they can be treated near to their homes, rather than in the specialist centres offering clinical trials in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

There needs to be more collaboration between hospitals and greater awareness of the trials available, said Dr Edgar.

Professor Pam Kearns, Cancer Research UK’s expert on childhood cancers, said: “The shortage of trials available for young people in Scotland is deeply concerning.

“The opportunity for children and teenagers to get on to relevant clinical trials should not be dependent on how old they are or where they live.

“To address this gap, we need to understand the complex reasons behind why it happens.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “We will continue to work with the clinical research community to identify and remove any barriers to the participation of young people with cancer in clinical trials.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com