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What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a research study to determine whether a new approach to cancer prevention or treatment works better than the best known available treatment. Clinical trials compare the new drug or approach with the existing “standard of care” to make sure the drug is safe and effective.

Who should think of participating in a clinical trial?

Everyone facing a cancer diagnosis of any kind should be aware of clinical trials as a treatment option—but not everyone can or should be on a trial. A clinical trial can be a good option for people who are:

  • interested in getting access to the newest cancer treatments
  • diagnosed at an advanced stage
  • no longer responding to other treatments
  • at high risk for recurring or spreading after primary treatment
  • interested in helping other cancer patients today and tomorrow by advancing cancer treatment
  • diagnosed with a rare, aggressive or difficult to treat cancer

The best way to know if you should consider being in a clinical trial is to talk to your doctor and treatment team. If your doctor is not involved in doing clinical research or does not explain your options for a clinical trial, you should think about getting a second opinion.

How do I find a trial that is right for me?

Finding a trial that is right for you and your cancer can be a challenge. The best way is to discuss your situation with your doctor or to get an opinion from a medical center that is actively involved in clinical trials for your cancer.

If you do try to find trials online, it can be difficult and frustrating. Be sure you know your exact cancer type, any previous cancer treatments you have and any medical problems that could cause you to be ineligible for a trial. Print out anything you find and take it to your doctor to discuss.

How do they measure the results of a clinical trial?

Every trial measures whether the new approach is safe and effective.

Safety is assessed by recording the side effects each patient experiences and the severity of these problems. This information will come from the treatment team and more and more often today from the patient’s themselves.

Clinical trials also measure what happens to the tumor as a result of the treatment. The researchers look at what happens in individual patients and in the whole group of patients being treated. Many trials now focus on reducing the risk of recurrence in people whose cancers have factors that make them likely to come back or spread.

Will I get a placebo if I participate in a trial?

It is very rare for people with cancer in clinical trials to get a placebo or sugar pill. In a cancer clinical trial patients will usually get at least the standard of care. This means getting the best known available treatment or practice.

What kind of care will I receive on a trial?

If you participate in a clinical trial, you will be part of a research study. But you are not a guinea pig. People who participate on clinical trials get very high levels of care. Their cancers and their overall condition are monitored and cared for very closely.

Will I have extra costs for my care on a trial?

The costs of being on a clinical trial, including any drugs or care, are covered by your insurance company or the trial's sponsor. You should discuss the possibility of any additional, indirect costs—childcare, transportation, lost job time—that might result from additional doctor’s appointments, clinic visits or procedures.

Will I have to leave my current doctor?

That depends on what kind of cancer you have, where you are being treated and for what kind of trial you enroll. If there is not trial available in your treatment facility, your doctor should be willing to refer you to another cancer center.

Are clinical trials for people who don’t have any other options?

NO. There are trials for every type and stage of cancer. For many cancers, a trial can be even be the first option. It is important, however, to have a very open, honest discussion with your doctor about the goals and expected treatment outcomes for your trial.

Why should I be on a clinical trial?

  • You may benefit from having access to innovative cancer therapies that are potentially better than the standard of care.
  • You will receive a high level of care on the trial.
  • You will contribute to cancer research and to a better future for cancer care and treatment for other people facing cancer.