Importance of Clinical Trials
A clinical trial could be an excellent treatment option for you. Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. Clinical trials may also show which treatments work best for certain illnesses or groups of people. The results of clinical trials help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide whether to approve a new treatment so it can be used in general practice. If you enroll in a clinical trial, you can receive treatment before it is available to the public.
Reasons to participate?
You may want to consider participating in a clinical trial for any of the following reasons:
- Your current treatment may not be working as well as expected, and a clinical trial may be a worthwhile alternative.
- A clinical trial may significantly improve your quality of life. Discuss your personal situation with your medical team.
- You may have a rare type of cancer that hasn’t been studied as much as other types.
- By simply participating, you play an integral role in helping refine and improve the way millions of people with all types and stages of cancer are treated. You will not only help identify treatments that do work, you’ll help eliminate those that don’t.
If you join a trial, you are guaranteed to receive at least the standard of care. Institutional review boards or ethics committees carefully set up safeguards to make sure that all patients in the clinical trial remain safe throughout the process. Keep in mind that not everyone responds to treatments in the same way, so you cannot expect an identical experience in terms of response to treatment, side effects, etc. Regardless of the opinions and research you gather, participating in a clinical trial is ultimately your decision.
Fear of the unknown is a common reason patients with cancer hesitate to volunteer in clinical trials. It’s important to know that if you feel your expectations aren’t met or if you experience too many side effects, you can withdraw and return to standard treatment at any time.
What to expect
Clinical trials are all highly strategic and performed in a totally consistent manner so that all patients are treated exactly the same. Whether you’re at a small rural hospital or a large facility in a metropolitan area, your medical team will be responsible for diligently following all of the same safety measures for your treatment plan across the board.
When you volunteer to participate in a clinical trial, you will receive specific instructions but you are encouraged to ask questions about anything you don’t fully understand. This is the ideal time to talk with your medical team about the many falsehoods that persist about clinical trials. Though there is fear to the contrary, participants are guaranteed to receive at minimum the current standard of care during the trial.
You will be carefully monitored throughout the clinical trial. Even after the treatment ends, you will continue to be in close contact with the medical team.
Risks and benefits
Clinical trials present many potential benefits, including the ability to receive treatment before it is available to the public. As with any treatment option, some risks are involved, such as side effects. If you consider volunteering for a clinical trial, talk with your medical team about the expected benefits and risks so you can best manage your expectations. In many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Find a Clinical Trial
Your medical team may not be aware of all available clinical trials. Using online tools such as these makes it easy to search for clinical trials that apply to you:
- Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation
- City of Hope
- Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups
- Foundation for Women’s Cancer
- National Cancer Institute
- National Institutes of Health
Questions to ask to help you decide whether to volunteer for a clinical trial
- Why is this trial being done?
- What makes the researchers think the new treatment might be better than the current one? Why might it not be better?
- What are my other options (standard treatments, other studies)? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
- What were the results of any previous studies of this treatment?
- What are the possible benefits, side effects and risks of the new treatment?
- How will the doctor know if the treatment is working?
- Can I choose to continue to get this treatment even after the study ends?
- How long will I be in the trial?
- What kinds of tests are involved?
- How could the trial affect my daily life?
- Will I have to travel to receive treatment? Will I be compensated for travel expenses?
- How often will I have to come to the hospital or clinic?
- Will I have to be hospitalized? If so, how often and for how long?
- What type of long-term follow-up care is part of the study?
- Will I continue to be under the care of my doctor, or will I be seeing a different one (or both)?
- Are there others participating in the study I could speak to?
- Will I have to pay for any of the treatments or tests?
- What costs will my health insurance cover?