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Understanding Clinical Trials

What Are Clinical Trials?
Clinical trials are research studies involving people.

  • They test ways to treat and prevent cancer.
  • All of today’s standard cancer treatments are a result of clinical trials completed many years ago.

Facts About Clinical Trials

  • More than 25,000 cancer patients enroll each year in clinical trials through the National Cancer Institute. Many more patients are enrolled in clinical trials sponsored by other groups.
  • About 60 percent of the adults enrolled in clinical trials are women.
  • Lung, breast, prostate and colon cancers have the highest number of clinical trials dedicated to them — more than 40 percent of the total number of trials.
  • Only a small percentage of all cancer patients enroll in clinical trials. Their participation may benefit them as well as future cancer patients

What Are the Benefits?
Although there are risks with any treatment, there are also many benefits of taking part in a clinical trial. For example:

  • Access to promising new treatments that are not available outside of the clinical trial setting.
  • The treatment being studied may be better than the standard approach.
  • You are followed very closely by a research team that is made up of doctors and other health professionals.
  • You may be the first to benefit from the new method. Results from the study may help others in the future.

What Are the Risks?
Before taking part in a clinical trial, talk to your doctor about some of the risks involved with your treatment. For example:

New drugs or treatments may not be any better than the standard care they are being compared to.

New treatments may have side effects that are not expected.

If you are in a randomized trial, you will not be able to choose if you are getting the new treatment or the standard approach.

Health insurance may not cover all your costs.

You may be required to make more frequent visits to the doctor.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Before joining a clinical trial, you may want to ask your doctor questions about the study and your treatment.

  • What are you trying to learn from the study?
  • What do doctors know already about the treatments being studied?
  • What treatments and tests will I get during this trial?
  • Who will be in charge of my care during the study?
  • What are the differences between what I would get on this treatment and the standard treatment you would recommend?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • How will this affect my daily life?
  • How long will the study last?
  • What will I be asked to pay?
  • How will I know if the study was successful?

How Can I Join a Clinical Trial?
If you are interested in joining a clinical trial, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you find out if a trial is right for you.

  • The National Cancer Institute can give you information on current trials. Call 1-800-4-CANCER or visit to learn more.

Who Pays for a Clinical Trial?
Before taking part in a clinical trial, it's important to ask what your costs will be.

  • In some cases, the sponsor of the study (such as the government, drug makers or technology companies) will provide the new treatment at no cost and pay for any special testing or extra doctor visits. Some sponsors may pay more than this, such as covering travel time and mileage expenses. However, other trials may pay very little of your treatment costs.
  • If you have private insurance, check with your provider before you begin treatment. It may be willing to pay for some or all of the costs of your treatment, depending on the type of trial.
  • Medicare will pay for the routine costs for some government sponsored clinical trials. Ask your doctor or call your local Medicare provider to find out what Medicare will pay for your treatment.



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