How do I persuade my father to join a clinical trial that could help him fight bone cancer?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I've found a clinical trial that I think would work for my father, who has bone cancer, and the doctor is tentatively supportive. But my dad is very reluctant. He says he'll just follow the doctor's original treatment plan even though the prognosis is not good. Should I concede or try to persuade him?

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

When the prognosis for treatment isn't optimistic, a clinical trial can offer the possibility of increasing your father's odds of beating the disease or increasing the quality of his life. I'd encourage you to continue talking with your father about this clinical trial, and try to find out why he's refusing to join.

Reluctance usually stems from one of three places. Is your dad reluctant to participate because the trial is experimental? Or because it may require extra effort or costs? Or could it be that he has made his peace and is ready for the end of his life?

Your interaction with him should focus on the real cause of his feelings.

  • If he's afraid, give him as many details about the trial as you can find (such as lead investigator, duration, number of people involved, location, requirements). If possible, have your dad talk to the lead investigator or the manager of the trial so he'll have a better idea of what to expect. Many researchers also encourage participants to talk with research nurses or social workers associated with the trial to get answers to their questions.
  • If he's against investing in the trial, find out what exactly you'll be responsible for in terms of travel, and expenses. Clinical trials offer quality cancer care, with the experimental component usually offered for free. Travel costs are sometimes reimbursed, and many other trial-related expenses are covered by the entities sponsoring the research. To be sure, call the scheduler. Also ask what will physically be required of the patient (such as number of exams, number of treatments, amount of paperwork). Discuss these with your dad one by one. The quantity of information can be overwhelming, and you want him to be comfortable with it.
  • If he's made peace and does not want to pursue experimental treatments, then you need to respect that. You clearly love your father and want what's best for him. Forcing him to go through something he truly doesn't want is not good for him, you, or the researchers. As hard as it may be, drop the subject of clinical trials and look at palliative options with your oncologist.

After more discussion, should your dad change his mind and become interested in participating, you'll need guidance. This is where your doctor comes back in to the discussion. The oncologist will help determine if your dad fits the criteria and will outline study particulars, such as patient privacy, informed consent, and options to leave the study or change treatments/facilities if the trial isn't right for your dad.