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Pilot project brings access to care closer to home for Terrace cancer patients

Northwest B.C. will be the first region to partner in the international clinical trial project
Northwest cancer patients in medical trials may soon have access to follow-ups closer to home. Dr. Rob Olson stands in front of a linear accelerator at the BC Cancer - Prince George centre. The machine is used to deliver SABR treatment to clinical trial patients. (Photo: supplied)

Terrace, Kitimat, and Smithers cancer patients may have access to participate in medical trials that will bring access to care much closer to home. The northwest region will be the first to pilot partnering with community doctors and local health authorities to perform research follow-up with patient participants at hospitals closer to where they live, Dr. Rob Olson clinical trial lead with BC Cancer and UNBC Northern Medical Program, said.

In a June 18 conversation with Black Press, Olson said he is currently heading a phase three international clinical trial called ‘SABR-COMET-3’ to investigate whether the application of SABRE to sites of cancer can improve survival and potentially cure some patients. SABR is a form of high precision cancer therapy that delivers substantially higher doses of radiation to the tumour in just one or a few treatments.

Terrace was chosen as the hub for the pilot project because it can draw clinical trial patients from Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Smithers, and other northwest communities.

Cancer patients from the northwest participating in trials are often inconvenienced with cost and having to travel long distances to the regional cancer centre in Prince George to have follow-up and have side effects recorded accurately. The pilot will enable local patients to see a Terrace physician with oncology experience and stay closer to home.

While there may not be many patients in the area who are eligible for this particular trial Dr. Olson said, the lens should be focused on access to clinical trials.

“I think the bigger picture is the story shouldn’t be about COMET-3. It should be about access to clinical trials. This is us opening clinical trials, and soon there’ll be more of them open.”

“I want patients to be upset that they don’t have access to more, I want them to advocate for more trials.”

Medical trials are very metro-centric, he said. The higher the population equals the higher case instances, thus the higher number of medical trials. Smaller and rural communities are often left out.

“Unfortunately, although we say our healthcare is equal access no matter where you are, from a clinical trials point of view, that’s not true,” he said. “One of the main things I’m really pushing is access to clinical trials should be upheld within the Canada Health Act. Everyone should have equal access.”

Dr. Olson acknowledges there are practical reasons why that is not so, but said it doesn’t stop him from pushing for it.

“There is a very keen group of people that are supportive,” Olson said.

Doctors in Terrace are very supportive of the trials he said, citing a long list of names headed by Dr. Jaco Fourie, Northern Health cancer care medical lead and oncologist, who are eager to become involved. The team is in the planning stages of the project, which includes signing up to the trial study team and partnering with Northern Health (NH) to develop the necessary protocols and documentation.

“We’re hoping that this changes the future of clinical trials in B.C. and elsewhere,” Olson said. “In many circumstances, the treatment intervention being investigated, such as chemotherapy or SABR, is only available to patients on trial and I strongly believe that all patients across B.C. should have equal access to clinical trials as a component of their care.”

K-J Millar | Journalist
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