While the decision whether or not to enroll in a clinical trial of a novel cancer treatment is ultimately very personal, a clear understanding of the nature of clinical trials can help you make the choice that’s right for you. Once you carefully weigh the pros and cons of clinical trials, you’ll be prepared to make a thoughtful and informed decision that supports your cancer treatment plan.
A clear understanding of what clinical trials are is a good place to start:
Cancer clinical trials are studies that evaluate the effectiveness and safety of new cancer drugs or cancer treatment strategies. The development of more effective cancer treatment requires that new and innovative therapies be evaluated with cancer patients. Each clinical trial is designed to find new or better ways to treat cancer patients. In oncology, clinical trials are especially important because, in the absence of high cure rates, nearly all cancer treatment approaches are developmental in nature. All new cancer drugs that are currently available in the United States were once only available in clinical trials. In the U.S. all new cancer treatment products must proceed through an orderly clinical trials evaluation process to ensure that they have an acceptable level of safety and demonstrate benefit to patients with a specific cancer before they become commercially available to other patients.
The Pros of Clinical Trials
- Participating patients are treated with carefully designed cancer treatment regimens that are either the best standard treatments available or approaches that may become standard treatments.
- Participation is an integral part of the research process. Small improvements in cancer treatment can only be detected in Phase III clinical trials, the phase in which the experimental drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will contribute to safe use of the drug or treatment. A greater number of patients allows for a more efficient and thorough process.
- In some cases the best cancer treatment may be available only in a clinical trial.
- Participants receive correct dosages as a result of carefully designed regimens and strict protocol, and correct dosage often contributes to the effectiveness of a cancer treatment regimen.
- Thanks to “stopping rules”, which are included in all cancer research protocols, clinical trials are stopped when one cancer treatment is proven to be superior so that no patient is intentionally given an inferior treatment.
- The medical community gains knowledge about the treatment of cancer that can be used to treat other cancer patients and to develop newer cancer treatments.
The Cons of Clinical Trials
- Clinical trials are not available for all cancers or all patients.
- Patients in Phase III clinical trials are assigned at random to either the experimental or control group—a process that makes some people uncomfortable.
- Participation in a clinical trial may offer no benefit.
Understanding the pros and cons of clinical trials in oncology may help you decide whether or not participation in a clinical trial is an appropriate choice, but it’s important to remember that the decision is entirely your own. In other words, you shouldn’t feel pressure from any outside sources to enroll in a clinical trial. If you do choose to participate or further research clinical trial opportunities, you may wish to discuss with your physician the potential risks and benefits of these studies as well as your other treatment options.