Clinical trials that can give cancer patients access to life-saving treatments now offer new hope for rural communities

A new project is hoping to tackle long-standing health inequity by opening up access to more clinical trials in rural and regional communities.

For some patients, a clinical trial can be the best chance for improved health, but most take place in metropolitan settings in large hospitals.

Stephen Wadey, 34, was diagnosed with melanoma seven years ago. After surgery to remove the cancer, he decided to join a clinical trial.

“I didn’t really like the idea of ​​just sitting around and waiting to see if it would come back or not,” he said.

“Once we spoke with the oncologist about other options he mentioned that though there’s no tablet or drug we can just give you to eradicate the cancer, we have these things called trials.”

The trial he was a part of helped prove the immunotherapy worked well for many people, and it’s now used in clinical settings.

‘Major challenge for regional people’

Although his cancer has returned several times, Stephen Wadey is confident the trial helped fight it in each instance.

And while he’s grateful to have participated in the trial, it took a toll on him and his young family.

They live in East Gippsland, Victoria — 270 kilometers from the hospital offering the treatment, so the commitment included seven years of many road trips backwards and forwards to Melbourne.

A patient lies in hospital bed receiving a syringe of fluid being injected into his arm.
The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne has partnered with regional and rural hospitals to make oncology trials more accessible for patients like Steve Wadey.(Supplied: Alfred Health)

“To go there for routine scans, follow up appointments, surgery, treatments sometimes weekly, sometimes fortnightly … it was a lot of backwards and forwards, which means a lot of time off work,” he said.

“You’ve just been diagnosed with a terrible illness and to have to face the challenges of travel and costs and time off work … it represents a major challenge for regional people.”

The father of one is an advocate for opening up access to clinical trials and the work of the TrialHub project.

The project has partnered the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne with rural and regional hospitals to improve their clinical trial offerings and set up new trials.

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