Lessons learned from conducting clinical trials result in more solutions, and more hope, for people facing lung cancer. Clinical trials come in many forms — from testing new treatments and procedures to researching strategies for disease prevention, improved diagnostic tools and more.
Simply by participating in a trial, you will be a partner in cancer research, helping improve treatments for future patients. The need is great for more participants in every area; minority patients are particularly needed.
The answers to the following frequently asked questions will help you feel more knowledgeable as you explore this option.
Q: What are clinical trials?
A: Clinical trials are research studies that look for new strategies to offer more benefits than the current standard of care. Most of the advances made in treating cancer today were once therapies or procedures that were developed, tested and evaluated through the clinical trials process to gain approval for use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Q: What is the focus of each type of trial?
A: People are most familiar with therapeutic clinical trials. They test treatments such as new drug therapies, medical procedures or devices. They also study surgical techniques that are less invasive, result in less trauma and reduce patient recovery time.
Disease prevention and patient screening trials are aimed at identifying or diagnosing a particular disease or condition. They also find ways to prevent the initial development or recurrence of a disease or condition. They can include medicines, vaccines or lifestyle changes, among other approaches.
Diagnostic tools and procedures trials examine new and improved methods for identifying a condition or the risk factors for that condition.
By conducting genetic risk factors trials, researchers seek to learn more about the genetic disorders and disease-related mutations that cause various types of cancer.
Lifestyle/behavioral changes trials explore and measure ways to make people more comfortable as they manage a chronic condition. Some test the effect lifestyle changes have on lowering cancer risk and on current cancer treatments.
Q: Are therapeutic clinical trials only a last resort?
A: No. They may be an option at any time during treatment. A therapeutic trial may be your best first treatment option, especially if your diagnosis has few or no approved therapies. It could offer an alternative if your cancer has become resistant to your current treatment. Or, the therapy being tested may offer fewer side effects than your current treatment, improving your quality of life.
Q: Aren’t clinical trials risky?
A: As with any cancer treatment, those used in clinical trials present potential risks. The Informed Consent form that you are required to sign to participate lists the known risks, side effects and more. Read it thoroughly and ask questions to ensure you feel well-informed. It may reassure you to know that more specialists will be involved in your care because you will be monitored by the medical team managing your trial as well as by your regular oncologist.
Q: Do drug trials use a placebo instead of the therapy being tested?
A: Treatment is not replaced with a placebo. If you are not getting the trial drug, you will receive the current standard of care. When placebos are used, such as in combination studies, they are used along with the current standard of care and with the full knowledge of the participants. Even in those rare cases, you will always get at least the standard of care treatment for your diagnosis.
Q: Can I leave a clinical trial once it has started?
A: Participation is always voluntary. You can withdraw at any time and for any reason.
A: Yes, access to clinical trials is much broader than it used to be. They take place in nationally known cancer centers and university medical centers in major cities, but they also happen in regional hospitals and oncologists’ offices. Many trials today are using telehealth so you don’t have to travel for every appointment or to sign the Informed Consent form in person.
Q: What if my doctor doesn’t suggest a clinical trial?
A: You are encouraged to ask about clinical trials soon after diagnosis so your medical team knows they can include trials as an option in your treatment plan.
Q: Can I look for a clinical trial on my own?
A: Absolutely. Start by using the list of trusted clinical trial sites in the Resources section, and ask your doctor for additional recommendations. Have your exact diagnosis, pathology report and details of your previous cancer treatments on hand to help determine whether you meet the basic eligibility requirements. Every participant in a trial must meet the same criteria, such as the stage of disease, sites of metastasis and more.
Tell your doctor about any trials you are interested in and discuss whether they may be a good fit for you.