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Not Enough to Go Around

Clinical trials seeking to examine the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapies or personalized cancer treatments are running into issues finding patients, the New York Times reports.

Most cancer patients are treated outside of academic research centers by doctors who are not part of clinical trial networks, the Times notes. In addition, it says that for cancers like melanoma, patients can be cured through surgery, leaving the small portion of people who relapse as candidates for experimental treatments. At the same time, some trials are looking for people with certain genetic glitches — and most patients don't undergo genetic analysis and have no idea what mutations their tumor harbors. All this, the Times says, can lead to years-long searches for patients as well as to trials that are quite small. Small trials can attribute to the drug what might just be due to chance and can miss key side effects.

It can also lead to questions of whether it's worth it because such treatments might only help a sliver of patients and come with a high price tag for those it does help. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Scott Ramsey tells the Times that patients might want the new drugs but because of the expense, "you wonder if you are doing them any favors."