Studies of promising new treatments are known as clinical trials. A clinical trial is done only when there is some reason to believe that the new treatment may be of value to the patient. Clinical trials are needed in order to find new and better ways to treat cancer. The main questions the researchers want to answer are:
Is this treatment helpful?
Does it work better than the one we're now using?
What side effects does it cause?
Do the benefits outweigh the side effects?
Which patients are most likely to find this treatment helpful?
Clinical trials are carried out in steps called phases. Each phase is designed to answer certain questions.
Phase I clinical trials look at the best way to give a new treatment and how much of it can be given safely. The main purpose of a Phase I study is to test the safety of the new drug.
Phase II clinical trials are designed to see if the drug works. Patients are given the highest dose that doesn’t cause serious side effects and then watched closely to see if there is an effect on the cancer.
Phase III clinical trials compare the new treatment with standard treatment. Large numbers of patients are divided into two groups. The control group receives standard treatment and the other group receives the new treatment. Everyone is closely watched to see which treatment is more effective. The study is stopped if the side effects are too severe or if one group has much better results than the other.
If you are in a clinical trial, you will receive excellent care. You will have a team of experts watching your progress very carefully. However, there are some risks. No one knows in advance if the treatment will work or exactly what side effects will occur. That is what the study is designed to discover. Keep in mind, though, that even standard treatments have side effects.
Taking part in a clinical trial is completely up to you. Even after joining a clinical trial, you are free to drop out of the study at any time, for any reason. Taking part in the study will not prevent you from getting other medical care you may need.
The American Cancer Society offers a service to patients and their families that will help match them with a clinical trial. We will ask you about your cancer, where you live, and whether you can travel or not. Then our computer will give you a list of clinical trials that might meet your needs.
To use this service, please click here or call our National Cancer Information Center (1-800-ACS-2345).
The National Cancer Institute has current information about NCI-sponsored clinical trials. You can call the NCI at 1-800-4-CANCER or visit their Web site at www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/.
American Cancer Society website: http://www.cancer.org