Twice a week, Gisela Foster gets a text message on her smart phone, reminding her that she needs to take her regular cancer-survival medicine. It’s not as if she needs a reminder.
“I take my pills,” Foster says, firmly but smiling, enjoying a coffee on a Pruneyard café patio. “But the texts are [for] one of the two clinical trials I volunteered to join after my breast cancer treatment at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara hospital.”
Foster is one of nearly 100 patients at Santa Clara – and thousands more across Northern California, participating in clinical trials at Kaiser Permanente. For many years, KP has offered its patients the opportunity to enroll in high-quality, low-risk, late-stage clinical trials sponsored by respected clinical organizations, like the National Cancer Institute and other oncology groups.
Usually, the patient receives either a drug or therapy related to his or her condition, or a placebo, and is closely clinically monitored.
In Foster’s case, the text message is being tested as a method to ensure her compliance – and that of others in the trial – to take their regular pills on schedule. Unfortunately, many patients stop taking their life-prolonging pills too soon. Not Foster.
“I also am taking a white ‘horse-pill’ twice-a-day,” laughs Foster. “That’s my other clinical trial. I really don’t know whether I’m getting the real medication or a placebo. But Dr. [Min-gui] Pan asked if I would participate and I agreed.”
Pan is the Chief of Oncology at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara.
“Gisela is taking part in a clinical trial of a long-established diabetes medicine, which scientists think extracts sugar from cancer cells and prevents relapse,” says Pan. “It’s research sponsored by the National Cancer Institute of Canada and hundreds of medical centers worldwide are involved.”
Pan also doesn’t know whether Foster’s getting the real medicine or a placebo, because clinical trials operate “in the blind” to determine if a drug really works. In the past, Kaiser Permanente’s clinical trials in Northern California have shown the effectiveness of life-saving drugs like Herceptin for breast cancer and Avastin for colon cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has awarded KP Northern California, and recently, KP Santa Clara Medical Center for its outstanding work enrolling patients in clinical trials.
“This is part of our clinical excellence at KP Santa Clara,” says Pan. “Our Physician-in-Chief Dr. Susan Smarr has said that cancer care is our highest priority at this medical center.”
Indeed, there are multiple diagnostic and treatment programs for cancer at the Santa Clara medical center, and, as a result, a high rate of long-term survival for its cancer patients. Recently, after a rigorous audit of data, the “Commission on Cancer” from the American College of Surgeons awarded KP Santa Clara with an “Academic Comprehensive Cancer Program” accreditation.
“The accreditation makes sure that KP Santa Clara continues to meet or exceed high national standards for quality of cancer care,” says Pan. Soon Kaiser Permanente will be seeking a similar accreditation for all of its 21 medical centers in Northern California. And regional leaders are looking at accreditations from other organizations.
For Foster, though, it wasn’t accreditations and clinical awards that informed her battle with breast cancer at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara. It was the people.
“The cancer community there (at KP Santa Clara) treated me fabulously,” she says, and she admits that after her chemo therapy and radiation treatments ended and she went home, she kind of missed the connection to the Santa Clara cancer care community. So she signed up for two clinical trials, which require regular visits to the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center.
“Sure, I hope I can help my survival,” she says, “but I’m expressing gratitude for my great care, and I am hoping that my participation in these trials helps to prolong the survival of others with cancer.”
For additional information, please go to: kp.org/santaclara/cancercare