What are cancer clinical trials?
Cancer clinical trials are research studies that involve people who participate voluntarily. Through clinical trials, doctors find new ways to improve cancer treatments and the quality of life for people with various types of cancer and in various stages. Researchers can design cancer clinical trials to test new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. These types of clinical trials are also used for finding better ways to manage symptoms of cancer and side effects from its treatment.
Why are cancer clinical trials important?
Today, people are living longer lives from successful cancer treatments that are the result of past clinical trials. When you take part in a clinical trial, you add to our knowledge about cancer and help improve cancer care for future patients. Clinical trials are the key to making progress against cancer.
What are the types of cancer clinical trials?
There are four different types of clinical trials:
Treatment trials, which test new treatments (drugs, medical procedures; combo treatments) or new ways of using existing treatments
Prevention trials, which look at cancer risk and ways to reduce that risk by either doing something (called action studies) like making lifestyle changes, or taking something (called agent studies) such medicines, vitamins, or minerals
Screening trials, which test new ways to find disease early, when it may be more easily treated
Quality of life trials, which explore ways to improve comfort and quality of life for cancer patients
What is a protocol?
A protocol is a study plan on which all clinical trials are based. The plan states what will be done in the study and why. This also includes details such as how many people will take part in the study, what types of patients may take part, what tests they will receive and how often, as well as the treatment plan. The Principal Investigator and the sponsoring organization will carefully develop and review the protocol of the study. Next, it is reviewed and approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure trial procedures are consistently carried out. This protocol is used by every doctor taking part in the study.
Why consider a clinical trial for your cancer treatment?
There are many reasons why people choose to join a clinical trial. Some join a trial because the treatments they have tried for their health problem did not work. Others participate because there is no treatment for their health problems. By being part of a clinical trial, participants could:
Have access to a cancer treatment that isn’t yet publicly available
Obtain free or low-cost treatment for the duration of the study
Contribute to cancer research that may provide life-saving treatment to future cancer patients
Gain a more active role in their own healthcare
Receive close monitoring from some of the best cancer doctors
What are some of the possible risks of participating in cancer research?
While there are benefits to participating in cancer clinical trials, there are some risks as well. Some possible risks that patients may face could include:
As with any cancer therapy, the treatment being evaluated in the trial may not work for the participant
New treatments may have unknown side effects or risks
You may have to go to the cancer center for more appointments, as required by the trial. This can make some people anxious.
You may have to do bloodwork or other tests more often than you would if you were receiving a standardized cancer therapy.
Since risks vary in each individual situation, it’s important to talk with the research team at our offices in the ChicagoLand area to understand the specific risks related to any cancer research trial that you may be considering participation in.
Do I have to participate in a clinical trial?
No. Participation in a cancer clinical trial is completely voluntary at all times.
What do I do if I want to consider a research trial for my cancer treatment?
If you are interested in cancer clinical trial participation, you should know as much as possible about the study before you decide if taking part in a study is right for you. This means taking time to ask important questions regarding the study, including its purpose, the procedures involved, the risks and benefits of participating, and the expenses you’ll be faced with.
If you want to participate, you can view our clinical trials available at our Chicago area cancer treatment centers, or talk with your oncologist about trials that may be available to you. Remember, not every patient is eligible to participate. But if you're interested, it's worth the conversation.
How are my rights protected during a cancer clinical trial?
There are federal rules in place to help ensure the safety and ethics of clinical trials. Participants will be protected through:
The informed consent process allots time for each participant to be given the details of what they’re about to participate in. Each trial participant has to sign the informed consent to show they’ve been given the information.
A careful review and approval of the clinical trial protocol by scientific experts and an institutional review board (IRB)
Ongoing monitoring of the trial by the IRB, the research team, the organization sponsoring the trial, and the Data and Safety Monitoring Boards (DSMBs) for phase 3 trials
Who pays for cancer clinical trials?
There are two types of costs associated with a clinical trial: patient care costs and research costs.
Patient care costs are those related to treating your cancer, whether you are in a trial or receiving standard therapy. These costs are often covered by health insurance. Doctor visits, hospital stays, standard cancer treatment, lab tests, and imaging tests are considered patient care costs in most cases.
Research costs are those related to taking part in the trial. Often these costs are not covered by health insurance, but are usually covered by the research trial’s sponsor. Study drugs as well as additional lab or imaging tests performed solely for the trial are examples of research costs.
Taking part in a cancer research trial, may require extra doctor visits that would not have been needed with standard treatment. During these visits your doctor carefully watches for side effects and your safety in the study. These extra visits can add costs for transportation and child care, if needed.
Will I continue to work with my primary healthcare provider while in a research trial?
Yes. Most clinical trials do not provide complete primary healthcare.
Do I have to go to a different oncologist if I participate in the trial?
No. Typically, patients who decide to participate in a clinical trial keep their current oncologist since cancer research trials do not provide extended or complete healthcare. Maintaining a relationship with your oncologist helps ensure that the study protocol will not conflict with other medications or treatments that you are receiving.
How should I prepare for the meeting with the research coordinator or doctor?
There is a lot to learn regarding cancer research trials. Because of this, it’s a good idea to come to the meeting prepared with a list of possible questions to ask. You might also want to bring a device that can record the discussion. Additionally, consider asking a friend or relative to join you for support and to hear the responses to the questions.
Can I leave a clinical trial after it has begun?
Yes. Cancer research participation is strictly voluntary. If you no longer wish to participate, you may withdraw from the study at any time for any reason. When withdrawing from the cancer trial, you should let the research team know about it and the reasons for leaving the study.
What if the new treatment doesn’t seem to be working for me?
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the new cancer treatment being studied in the cancer research trial will be better than, or even as good as, the standard treatment. After a phase I or II trial, the researchers decide whether to move on to the next phase or to stop testing the treatment or procedure because it was unsafe or not effective. Should the cancer treatment you’re receiving appear to be unsuccessful, your oncologist will suggest another cancer treatment option.
What is a blind clinical trial?
A blind clinical trial indicates that the patient does not know whether they’re getting the new treatment being studied or a standard cancer treatment. In some cases the researchers are trying to determine if the new treatment is better than what’s currently available without bias. Your oncologist will know which treatment you’re receiving.
What is a double blind clinical trial?
A double blind clinical trial is one where neither the cancer researchers nor the patient know which treatment they’re receiving – the standard treatment for that particular type of cancer, or the new treatment being studied. Patients are randomly selected by a computer and placed in one group or the other. This helps further reduce bias about the results of the treatments.