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By Sherri Richards, Published January 13 2003

Many studies take place at Fargo center

In his shirt pocket, Dr. Ralph Levitt, an oncologist with MeritCare Roger Maris Cancer Center, carries a list of approximately 80 studies going on in Fargo.

Roger Maris is a Community Clinical Oncology Program site, so it hosts many national studies sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and other major cancer centers.

Levitt says that about 5 percent of the cancer center's patients participate in these clinical trials, but that about 10 percent are eligible.

"In this part of the country, most are hesitant," he says. "Their lives are already disrupted by the cancer and it means more disruption of their lives."

He also says insurance companies hinder participation.

"Some do not wish to pay for some of the testing required for clinical trials," he says.

Levitt says very few patients participate in distant studies, like Mike Tuchscherer.

"The common tumors, we have all of the treatments necessary available here," Levitt says. "It's only in some situations when they've exhausted all the therapies and all our clinical trials."

Doctors at Roger Maris receive bulletins about studies going on at the National Cancer Institute and find out about them through medical journals and on the Internet.

"It's not an easy process, but it is a worthwhile process, especially when we have a ways to go with so many cancers," he says.

"We've been the beneficiary of a lot of studies the NCI started."

Levitt says clinical trials are the lifeblood of cancer treatment.

"I think the future of oncology and cancer research depends on studies," Levitt says. "We would never be able to cure anything unless there were clinical trials to prove whether something is effective or not."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525