Cancer Treatment

New Illinois Law Gives Patients Equal Access to Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical trials can save the lives of cancer patients, but studies show minorities and the poor often don’t participate, because they simply can’t afford to. Parking costs and travel expenses add up, but a new law in Illinois allows patients to get reimbursed for those expenses.

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It’s been 16 years since she beat colorectal cancer, but Candace Henley is still emotional about all she endured.

“I myself was homeless going through cancer, so I know all too well that financial toxicity can have on your life,” Henley said. “No one saw me. I fell through the cracks. I lost everything and had to claw my way back. I know what that feels like."

Now a patient advocate, Henley was in the audience at the University of Chicago Medical Center Monday to learn more about a new law in Illinois aimed at increasing minority participation in clinical trials for cancer patients. A national study found that families making less than $50,000 a year are 30 percent less likely to enroll in a clinical trial.

“This is medical injustice,” Congressman Bobby Rush said at the news conference.  

A cancer survivor himself, Rush spoke about his role in advocating for the state legislation that allows third parties to reimburse patients for out of pocket travel expenses, like parking. The Lazarex Cancer Foundation is the only nationwide non-profit that assists patients with finding clinical trials and reimburses them for the out of pocket travel costs involved in getting to those clinical trials.

“Reimbursement creates a platform of parity and does not enrich an individual, but enables them,” said Dana Dornsife, Founder of Lazarex Cancer Foundation.

While Lazarex helps some Chicago patients currently, the foundation is working with both Northwestern University Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center to help expand the program to help 1,000 new patients each year.

“These efforts bringing the science, the current developments to our patients in all areas of the city, should and, I believe, will make a big difference,” said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, director of Northwestern University Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“By eliminating some of the barriers, like transportation, we believe we will be able to enroll a more diverse population,” said Dr. Michelle LeBeau, director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Henley believes more diversity is badly needed.

“Eighty percent of clinical trial samples are European, so when it comes to clinical samples, we don’t know if they work or not,” Henley said.

If the program is implemented correctly, Henley believes it could be life-saving for those in Chicago’s underserved communities.

Lazarex Cancer Foundation is currently looking for a Chicago-based pharmaceutical company to provide financial support, which would help expand the program to more patients.

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