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Case study: Joining a clinical trial was an easy decision for Sean

Sean Clark talks to CRN Kent, Surrey and Sussex about why he decided to take part in a clinical trial.

After suffering from stomach pains and weight loss for months, Sean Clark, 47 from Bognor Regis was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in August 2020.

This year he became a participant in the PLATFORM Trial (Planning treatment for oesophago-gastric cancer: a randomised maintenance therapy trial). Within the PLATFORM study, researchers are evaluating a number of different drugs to see whether any of them improve disease control and the length of time that somebody lives with advanced cancer of the stomach or oesophagus. This is after an initial course of chemotherapy. They are also seeing if the drugs are more tolerable than traditional chemotherapy. Sean tells us about his experience of being on the trial so far.

Sean said: “When I received my diagnosis, I was given the option of first line chemotherapy, which could give me 12 to 18 months life expectancy as a guesstimate. The chemotherapy took place over six cycles of three weeks, with no break in between. Unfortunately, during the second cycle I had a bad reaction to the chemotherapy drug and was hospitalised for several weeks.

“When I restarted my course of chemotherapy my oncologist, Dr Rebecca Herbertson at Worthing Hospital mentioned a clinical trial to me, but it would have meant travelling up to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. It was a blind trial and there was a chance that I would not receive the trial drug, so I decided not to join this particular trial and stay on first line chemotherapy treatment.

“After the six cycles of chemotherapy I had a scan to see if it had worked and by that point I had been told about the PLATFORM trial. The cancer I have is Linitis plastica, which is not a tumour, but the stomach wall thickens and ulcerates. The chemotherapy had worked and shrunk the thickness of the stomach walls and so I was eligible for the trial.

“Dr Herberston and her team went through the information about the trial with me many times and made sure I knew what to expect. The idea of the PLATFORM trial is that it provides ‘maintenance’ as my cancer is terminal. The trial is looking at whether a different type of chemotherapy can increase my life expectancy and not have the horrendous side effects.

“There are four arms to the trial and I was hoping for a particular arm, but as it is picked at random, it was not guaranteed which arm I would get. As luck would have it I was selected for the arm of the trial I was hoping for - Arm A4 Rucaparib. I take three tablets in the morning and three in the evening. The drug is used to treat ovarian cancer and the idea is that it blocks the proteins that the tumour needs to build and grow. The first line chemotherapy knocks back the tumour and the trial will see if this drug will stop the cancer from re-growing. Taking tablets was a better option for me as I have poor veins after the chemotherapy and I was not keen on having more IV infusions.

“As I have only just joined the trial I have to go to the hospital in Brighton every two weeks for blood tests and physical examinations, soon I will go every 28 days. Although I have to travel, the benefits outweigh the cost of parking and petrol. My first scan is at the end of this month and this is a nervous period for me while we see if trial has made a difference.

“For me, joining a clinical trial was an easy decision. I’m 47 and I’m not ready to shuffle off the mortal coil yet. The trial has given me the opportunity to hold the cancer at bay and have a bit of normal functionality. I have started to teach martial art combatives again and have put on weight after losing so much last year. I also create videos on YouTube talking about my cancer journey, in the hope that sharing my experience will help others.

“Dr Hertbertson, Research Nurse Cath Hunter and all of the team have been phenomenal. I feel like I have the A-Team of medical oncologists.They do not only ask about my cancer but also ask about my wellbeing. This is not just a clinical trial but also a support network.”