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Closer Cancer Clinical Trials for Locals

June 18, 2018 05:54 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Cancer patients looking to get into the best clinical trials have traditionally had to travel to large medical centers like the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota or Mayo Clinic in Rochester. But that is no longer the case. Some of those trials are now being offered at much smaller health centers, including those in Austin and Albert Lea.

"So we have some exciting news actually.." says Dr. Sumit Bhagra. Dr. Sumit Bhagra is the Medical Director for Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin. He says big-time clinical cancer treatments are now much more accessible. 

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"About 18 towns across the state will be able to offer some high-quality expertise related to cancer care for patients closer to home." 
"In the past, typically a cancer diagnosis meant the patient had to go to one of these larger centers to access research trials or specialized drugs now with funding it is possible for people to get hope and healing closer to home."

That includes Mayo's locations in Austin and Albert Lea.  Dr. Bhagra says the clinical trial expansion is important because 50 percent of those diagnosed with cancer live more than 30 miles away from large medical centers. 

Julia Bohonek of Austin has stage three breast cancer. She's in the "Be Well" study which includes 3,000 people in the U.S. and Canada. She says she likes the trial, in part, because it's so close to where she lives. 

"I like here because I know a lot of people in the community because I was born and raised here. Coming to the clinic or hospital, I know everybody. Going to Rochester, I don't know, I'd feel kind of nervous and maybe not do as well." 

And Dr. Bhagra says that's the whole point, "So this is really not about a cancer breakthrough for a specific type of cancer this is really improving access and health care delivery to patients with cancer.  

"So in those 18 communities… there's hope. There's access to great care close to home without the need to travel." 

The state of Minnesota has provided enough funding to run the clinical trial expansion program for 2 years.

Dr. Bhargra says depending on its success and availability of funds, it may be expanded beyond that time frame.

The clinical trials are a joint project between the Hormel Institute, the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and Mayo Clinic.

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