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Cancer Trials Expand as DoD Pledges Financial Assistance

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 1999 – The Defense Department and National Cancer Institute will soon expand the numbers and types of clinical trials open to TRICARE beneficiaries.

TRICARE-eligible cancer patients since 1996 have been eligible to take part in experimental treatment programs sponsored by the NCI at more than 2,000 locations. This summer, that agreement will expand to include cancer prevention clinical trials.

The DoD/NCI Cancer Treatment Clinical Trials Demonstration allows TRICARE beneficiaries to participate in the latest cancer treatment studies as part of their standard health care benefits. The current agreement gives them access to the cancer institute's Phase II and Phase III cancer treatment trials. Phase II trials provide preliminary information about how well a new drug or therapy works on a particular type of cancer. Phase III trials compare promising new treatments against standard treatments.

As it was first in coverage of cancer treatment clinical trials, DoD will become the first payer in the nation to cover the costs of cancer prevention clinical trials. The plan covers costs for screening tests to determine clinical eligibility and all cancer treatments covered under the demonstration project.

The prevention trials may be of interest to high-risk patients such as those with a family history of cancer or who've had cancer before, said Air Force Lt. Col. Kathy Larkin, a senior health policy analyst for the TRICARE Management Activity here. The treatment trials may be a real option for patients when standard treatments have failed or none exists, for instance for certain brain tumors, she said.

Larkin suggested those interested in joining a preventive or treatment trial consult with their doctors, because research needs are usually specific and prone to change. Patients, family members and others can access general information on cancer and clinical trials or obtain an authorization to enroll patients in a trial by calling 1-800-779-3060. Usual TRICARE rules, cost shares and deductibles apply, and eligible patients may receive care outside the TRICARE network.

Active duty families and TRICARE-eligible retirees and their families can participate in the clinical trials in military and civilian clinics and hospitals that provide cancer treatment. Active duty service members should contact their primary care manager to discuss participation in clinical trials.

DoD health administration records show that only 155 TRICARE- eligible beneficiaries had signed up for the trials as of August 1998. Although the number is low, Larkin said, it's important to keep military health care beneficiaries informed of all treatment options open to them. "Our goal is to inform our beneficiaries that they have the choice of this cancer treatment program," she noted.

To this end, TRICARE posts a great deal of information about the cancer trials on the Military Health System Web site (www.tricare.osd.mil/cancertrials/). Information also is available by calling the cancer trials demonstration coordinator toll-free at (800) 779-3060 and the Cancer Information Service at (800) 4-CANCER (422-6237).

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