Understanding clinical trials
Clinical trials are studies that evaluate whether new treatments are safe and effective in humans. In addition to validating a new drug or procedure’s safety and effectiveness, clinical trials help doctors determine the treatment’s side effects and best dosage. The results of clinical trials help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide whether to approve the new treatment, which makes it available for public use. Without patient participation in clinical trials, the prostate cancer treatments we have today would not be available.
Benefits of participating in a clinical trial
Participating in a clinical trial offers many benefits, including early access to potentially effective new treatments and receiving the best standard of care and close monitoring by experts. Clinical trial participants also play an important role in the scientific process and can help other people with cancer. A clinical trial may help you, and your participation in one will definitely help doctors and future patients. Clinical trial participants are always volunteers and can leave the trial at any time for any reason.
Glossary Terms - Words to know
Blind study: A study in which the participants do not know which treatment group they are in. In a single-blind trial, the patients do not know which treatment they’re receiving, but the doctors do. In a double-blind trial, neither the patients nor the researchers know who is receiving the experimental drug.
Safety in clinical trials
Clinical trials are safe for participants. All clinical trials must go through the same process to get the FDA’s approval. Strict scientific and ethical guidelines must be met and followed while each clinical trial is being developed and monitored. These studies are conducted under the direct supervision of physicians and expert research professionals, and every participating clinic, hospital, university or cancer center must follow the same set of rules, called a protocol.
The protocol outlines the eligibility criteria, specifies the tests that will be used and procedures that will be performed, describes the medications and their doses, and establishes the length of each study. Several safeguards are in place and regulated to guarantee the safety of all participants in a clinical trial.
Before researchers can study a treatment in humans, the treatment has to go through preclinical testing (laboratory or animal studies) to establish whether it is safe for humans and could work as intended. Preclinical testing can take several years to complete. At this point, the pharmaceutical research company must file an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) with the FDA. The IND must include results from the preclinical studies, protocols for all proposed clinical trials, and the drug’s ingredients, manufacturing and processing information. This gives the FDA a chance to review the study before participants are involved. A trial can enroll volunteers only after the FDA approves it.
How trials work
Each clinical trial establishes a set of characteristics its participants must have. This set is called eligibility criteria. Cancer type and treatment history are two common examples of eligibility criteria. The clinical trial staff will be able to determine whether you are eligible to participate in a specific trial.
Finding a trial
Your location doesn't limit your participation because clinical trials now take place at local hospitals and cancer centers as well as at major medical centers. You may find one in your town, or you may have to travel. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, you have a few methods of finding one that’s right for you. Ask your medical team if they can recommend a clinical trial for you. Current clinical trials with open recruitment can be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov. Trials labeled “open” are recruiting new volunteers, and trials labeled “closed” are not recruiting new volunteers. In addition, a number of government and private organizations provide listings of clinical trials and information about trials on their websites (see below).
Find a clinical trial
You can search for prostate cancer clinical trials at the following sites:
- Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation: www.searchclinicaltrials.org
- Center Watch: www.centerwatch.com
- ClinicalTrials.gov: clinicaltrials.gov
- National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials/search
- Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium: www.pcctc.org
Clinical Trials Myth vs Fact
MYTH: Clinical trials are only for people who have no other options for treatment (a “last resort”).
FACT: Cancer clinical trials are designed for people with cancer of all types and stages.
MYTH: Signing a consent form to participate “locks” you into staying in a trial.
FACT: After you sign a consent form, you can still change your mind and not participate in the trial. You can decide to leave the trial at any time for any reason.
MYTH: Some participants in a clinical trial get a placebo (sugar pill) instead of treatment.
FACT: Participants in cancer clinical trials will receive the standard of care as a foundation and then the experimental treatment or a placebo will be added to it. Although rarely the case today, if a placebo is used, study sponsors are required to disclose this information to patients ahead of time so that patients can make an informed decision about participating.
MYTH: Clinical trials are not safe.
FACT: Clinical trials have many built-in safeguards to protect participants’ rights and safety, such as an institutional review board, data and safety monitoring board and an ongoing informed consent process.
MYTH: Clinical trials only take place at large hospitals or cancer centers.
FACT: Many clinical trials take place at local hospitals, cancer centers and doctors’ offices. Clinical trials occur in all parts of the country, in both rural and urban areas.
MYTH: A clinical trial must be recommended by a doctor in order for a person to participate.
FACT: If your doctor does not talk to you about clinical trials, raise the topic yourself. You can also search for clinical trials online; contact information for each trial is provided.
MYTH: The cost of care in a clinical trial is not covered by health insurance.
FACT: Under the new health care laws, patient-care costs (such as going to the doctor, hospital stays or certain testing procedures) may be covered by insurance. It's common, but not guaranteed, for the trial sponsor to cover research costs directly related to the study, and insurance does not typically cover research costs. Any questions about coverage should be provided before entering into a clinical trial.