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Should you consider a clinical trial if you have cancer?

image of head with question mark
Clinical trials are research studies that people volunteer to join to evaluate new drugs, devices, or procedures.

Most of the standard treatments used to treat cancer today were tested and shown to be effective through clinical trials — and the successful therapies of tomorrow are in research today.

If you have cancer, you may be interested in participating.

Thirteen things to consider:

  • You have to qualify in order to join a particular clinical trial. Protocols explain exactly who can or cannot join each trial, sometimes determined by your age, gender, the type or stage of cancer you have, and the kinds of therapy you’ve undergone.
  • Before joining a trial, volunteers undergo testing to make sure they won’t be put at risk by the treatments in a study.
  • You do not have to participate in all phases of a clinical trial. Before a treatment becomes standard, it goes through three or four clinical trial phases. The early phases make sure the treatment is safe. Later phases show if it works better than standard treatment.
  • Depending on the trial, you may be randomly assigned to the “control group” of people who receive standard treatment or the “investigational group” of people who receive the treatment under study. Neither you nor your doctor get to choose which group you are in.
  • You can ask researchers how the trial could affect your daily life, how often you will have appointments and what will be involved. You can ask what your treatment choices are and how they compare with the treatment being studied.
  • You must give your informed consent before participating. That means you will learn the purpose, risks and benefits of a trial before deciding whether to join. Even after you join, you have the right to leave a clinical trial at any time.
  • Federal rules are meant to ensure clinical trials are run in an ethical manner, with oversight from scientific review panels, an institutional review board (IRB), data and safety monitoring boards and your research team.
  • If you’re in the “investigational group” and the new treatment is proven to work, you may be among the first to benefit. But you have to realize new treatments are not always better than, or even as good as, standard treatment — and they may have side effects that doctors don’t expect.
  • If you’re in the “control group,” you’ll have access to high-quality standard cancer care. It may not be as effective as the new treatment being studied. Or, it may prove more effective.
  • Investigational treatments and standard treatments that are proven effective may not be effective for you.
  • The National Cancer Institute, drug companies, medical institutions and other organizations sponsor clinical trials, but your health insurer or managed care provider will likely be billed for some patient care costs. Find out what will be paid for ahead of time.
  • Your participation gives you the chance to help others and improve cancer treatment.
  • Researchers at Upstate have many clinical trials that are focused on various types of cancer, including, but not limited to, breast, lung, colon, prostate and ovarian. Access is also available to national prevention and disease treatment trials through the Upstate Cancer Center’s association with cancer networks throughout the country. Learn more at upstate.edu/cancer under the “research” tab.

Cover of spring 2020 issue of Cancer Care magazineThis article is from the spring 2020 issue of Cancer Care magazine.