Patients with cancer living in regional and rural Victoria experience lower five-year survival rates (66 per cent) than those living in metropolitan areas (70 per cent).
In 2019, the number of patients with cancer living in a regional area who received clinical trial treatment close to home increased by 34 per cent, with growth across Bendigo, Albury Wodonga, Ballarat, Shepparton, Warrnambool and Geelong, according to Victoria’s Regional Trials Network.
Almost a fifth of the total regional cancer clinical trial patients are participating in a targeted therapy trial via the teletrials model. Teletrials enable clinical trials to be conducted in regional areas using digital platforms, such as telehealth, and collaborative partnerships to establish trial treatment delivery.
Coordinated by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in collaboration with Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre and Bendigo Health, the trial is a pilot for the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) Teletrials Program.
Professor Mark Rosenthal, VCCC Clinical Trials Lead and Director, Parkville Cancer Clinical Trials Unit, said, “Regional cancer patients experience several disadvantages including lower survival rates, due to healthcare access differentials. The VCCC Teletrials Program enables trials to be brought to the patient’s door, providing access to trial treatment locally, and thereby reducing travel, cost and social disruption.”
Best chance of being cured
Patients with cancer living in a regional community can and do participate in clinical trials administered in Melbourne hospitals. In 2017, about 27 per cent of Victorian cancer clinical trial patients travelled from a regional location to Melbourne for trial treatment.
Regional patients experience several barriers to accessing trial treatment, from driving hundreds of kilometres weekly, to taking leave without pay and finding support for school pick-ups.
Stephen Bayard is a cancer survivor from Port Fairy. He credits his survival to a clinical trial, travelling over 300 kilometres each way, monthly for 18 months. He said, “When you’ve got cancer, you know you might only have a short time to spend with family and friends. You also want to give yourself the best chance of being cured, so going on a trial can be your only hope.
“For those of us who live in the country, this can mean we need to choose between hope and spending quality time with our loved ones – not to mention the cost of travelling to and from the city. The idea of a teletrial is very exciting because we can have time to do the things that are important to us in the time we have left.”
More cancer clinical trials needed in regional centres
Successful patient recruitment achieved using the teletrials model demonstrates the need for more cancer clinical trials to be made available in regional centres.
The VCCC is committed to improving clinical trial access and increased participation for the benefit of all Victorians. Further cancer clinical trials have been identified for implementation in a regional area, with discussions for several of these trials currently underway with sponsors.