New ways to diagnose, treat and cure cancer offer us more reasons for hope than ever before. Recently discovered targeted treatments and immune therapies are among many options now available.
People with cancer can directly benefit from these advancements. They can also play a major role in their development by participating in a clinical trial. All patients with a cancer diagnosis should know about clinical trials and consider whether participation might be right for them.
A clinical trial is one of the final stages of the long process of developing a new cancer prevention aid, diagnostic tool or treatment.
New cancer treatments are developed and tested rigorously in a lab. But before they can be approved for public use, they must be tested on a limited number of volunteers to verify their effectiveness, identify side effects and make adjustments.
After all, just because something works in a lab does not mean it will be effective for treating cancer in people. The only way to know for sure is to test it on actual cancer patients.
Clinical trial participants are grouped according to the type of cancer or risk factors. Researchers then test the new medication or treatment.
The benefits of clinical trials
According to Karen Blatter, oncology research nurse coordinator with OSF HealthCare, participating in clinical trials offers multiple benefits for cancer patients.
“The types of treatments we have today were all developed through clinical trials. Participation in a clinical trial provides an opportunity to receive a new and possibly better treatment, which would not otherwise be available,” Blatter said. “For many others, though, participating in a clinical trial is a way they can turn something bad into something good. They can benefit others by helping to find ways to prevent or cure cancer.”
Some clinical trials may offer early access to a promising new treatment. Other clinical trials might only request the donation of a blood sample or tumor cells.
Blatter said that scientists study the samples to develop treatments targeting the cancer while preserving healthy cells.
Things to know about clinical trials
If you participate in a clinical trial, you may receive the standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy, or you may be given a new drug or treatment.
Researchers determine if a new treatment works by giving one group of participants the new treatment and another group a placebo. A placebo is a fake medication or treatment. Researchers can then compare the two groups and determine the effectiveness of the new treatment.
You will not know whether you are receiving the standard treatment plus placebo, or standard treatment plus new drug. You’ll be told after the trial is completed. In either case, you will always receive at least the current standard treatment.
Want to know about clinical trials?
They’re checking to see if the body accepts the new treatment, if the treatment reaches the tumor, how the cancer cells respond and if there are any adverse reactions.
If you’re given the experimental new treatment, there may be unexpected or severe side effects. That is why a clinical trial is necessary – finding issues with a treatment that couldn’t be guessed in the lab.
Participating in a clinical trial may also require more of your time. You may have to make extra visits to your care facility – requiring transportation and time away from other things.
According to Shylendra Sreenivasappa, MD, director of cancer research at OSF HealthCare, clinical trials are vital in developing safer and more effective cancer treatments.
“It’s one of the best ways to get excellent care and give back. They can help other patients with the same diagnosis,” Dr. Sreenivasappa said.
As a clinical trial participant, you must sign an informed consent document detailing the study and what you can expect. Signing does not require you to complete the entire study. You have the right to leave at any time and will be withdrawn right away if you have adverse side effects.
Clinical trials for new cancer treatments are always emerging. Talk with your family and health care team to decide if the clinical trial is a good fit for you.
Last Updated: July 12, 2022