May is National Cancer Research Month, which honors and brings awareness to the countless lives saved or improved worldwide because of lifesaving cancer research. There have been great strides in cancer research over the last few decades. This is mainly due to the progress of cancer clinical trials.
With the possibilities that clinical trials bring to cancer care and survivorship, it is important to understand clinical trials and their benefits.
What is a Clinical Trial?
Clinical trials are research studies that include people volunteers. Specifically, clinical cancer trials are used to study new ways to prevent, locate, diagnose, treat, and manage cancer and the side effects of treatment. Clinical cancer trials may involve a study of a new drug, a combination of drugs, or new approaches to surgery or therapy. Most notably, clinical trials are the only way to discover if a new medication or treatment is better than the most effective standard of care.
Before any clinical trial begins, researchers have been working in a laboratory setting to understand the effect of a new approach on cancer cells. A clinical trial is the final step in the research process and is conducted to compare the existing treatment for a specific type or stage of cancer with the new treatment.
Each clinical trial has a principal investigator, who oversees the trial and is typically a doctor. One of the principal investigator’s primary responsibilities is preparing the trial plan, known as the protocol. The protocol is an outline that explains the purpose of the clinical trial and includes the following:
- Eligibility criteria for volunteers
- Number of volunteers needed
- Treatment plan for volunteers
- Summary of medical testing
- Information to be collected from volunteers
It is a myth that patients with advanced cancer who no longer respond to treatment are the only viable candidates for clinical trials. There are trials available for almost every stage and every cancer. Enrolling in a clinical trial could be a possible care option if you or your loved one have been diagnosed.
Participating in a Clinical Trial
When deciding on whether or not to participate in a clinical trial, it is important that you discuss the pros and cons of joining a trial with your cancer care team, as well as your primary doctor. Additionally, the American Cancer Society has an excellent list of questions you should ask before participating in any trial.
There are a few benefits to enrolling in a clinical trial:
- Access to new, innovative therapy
- Cancer is closely monitored
- Potentially reduced cost
- Helping future generations
During a clinical trial, participants receive one of two possible treatments: the current standard of care or the new approach being tested in the trial. The purpose of this is to compare the new drug or therapy against the most effective care available. Some clinical trials allow patients to choose whether they receive the experimental treatment.
By participating in a clinical trial, you are adding to the collective knowledge about cancer and are supporting better cancer care for future patients. If joining a clinical cancer trial is an option for you or your loved one, be sure to fully understand the risks, out-of-pocket costs, and possible outcomes.