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How To Become a Patient Peer Reviewer

by Wanda Lucas

After cancer survivors complete treatment, they can experience an emotional roller coaster. They might feel that, once treatment is over, they are no longer fighting. This is understandable, but there are many ways survivors can continue the fight.

Many survivors take on the role of patient advocate. As a patient advocate, one can become a peer reviewer of cancer research studies. Patient peer reviewers, also called consumer reviewers or advocate reviewers, help evaluate research studies. The involvement of advocates in cancer research is crucial, and often it is a requirement for research applications to be considered for funding. Researchers find patient advocates’ contributions invaluable. Incorporating the patient experience into the review process is a way to include a variety of perspectives.

After serving on research panels and hearing researchers call for greater advocate involvement, it is clear to me that something needs to change so that researchers can contact patient advocates in their geographic area who have similar interests and availability. Connecting both parties can make a world of difference.

Opportunities as a Peer Reviewer

Advocates can contribute to the cancer research process by:

  • Participating in research teams;
  • Planning and implementing clinical trials;
  • Translating and disseminating research; and
  • Formulating research policy and oversight.

Advocate involvement is powerful. Advocates put a human face on the need for cancer research. Advocates offer varying perspectives and can help ensure the research is patient-focused. They can help the public understand cancer research and encourage new and groundbreaking work in research.

Since the inception of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs in the U.S. Department of Defense in 1992, advocates have been heavily involved in all aspects of the research funding process. Their role is to represent the views of those affected by cancer: patients, family members, and survivors. They review research applications for relevance and participate in discussions alongside researchers, medical practitioners, and scientists during review sessions.

Susan G. Komen and other advocacy organizations not only choose advocates to participate in the scientific research application process, but also to evaluate community-based organizations that seek funding for programs addressing education, screening, and access to care.

In some cases, advocates have formed groups affiliated with academic-based cancer centers, where their involvement begins early in the research process. Advocates offer feedback to researchers before they submit their applications and sometimes are asked to support the research project if it is funded. Examples include having advocates serve on advisory boards, helping with recruitment of study participants, or assisting in the creation of patient communications. Researchers often find advocates’ comments and suggestions so valuable that they change the design of their studies to incorporate patient perspectives.

How to Get Started as a Peer Reviewer

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) offers survivors a chance to participate in the Scientist↔Survivor Program at the AACR Annual Meeting and the Science of Cancer Health Disparities conference. The program offers advocates great scientific sessions presented in understandable language, interaction with top-notch scientists, and an opportunity to network with other advocates.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition offers a weeklong course called Project LEAD, which is a top-quality science training program for advocates. Its focus is on the biology of breast cancer, epidemiology, genetics, research design, and advocacy. Graduates of Project LEAD work in all aspects of breast cancer-related research, quality care improvement, and decision-making based on evidence-based health care.

Susan G. Komen offers the Advocates in Science program, in which patient advocates offer guidance in reviewing scientific grant applications. The Komen program focuses on breast cancer research that is translational-meaning research that may have an impact on breast cancer patients within 10 years.

Resources for Peer Reviewers