Feature Archive

No Trials for the Aging

Why are seniors being left out of clinical studies?

WebMD Feature

April 3, 2000 -- (Great Falls, Mont.) -- A mammogram revealed a small cancerous tumor in Opal Addison's breast, and she opted for a lumpectomy. When her oncologist recommended that she enroll in a clinical trial of an experimental drug to prevent further cancer, Addison (not her real name) readily agreed. She did it to help herself and possibly others. ''If I was 21, I probably wouldn't do it,'' says the 70-year-old Illinois woman. ''But now, if I can help anybody, I'm glad to.''

Now completing the first year of the five-year study, she takes a daily pill, visits her doctor for blood tests every three months, and has a mammogram every six. So far, she's been free of side effects such as nausea or night sweats, which she says would have to be ''pretty severe before I would drop out."

Older volunteers can help increase overall knowledge about the effectiveness of cancer drugs. But patients older than 65 are woefully underrepresented in cancer treatment trials, according to a study published in the December 30, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Scope of the Problem