Clinical trials are crucial in the development of new cancer treatments and the improvement of current treatments. Clinical trials allow doctors and researchers to determine whether a new treatment is safer and more effective than the current standard of care. Participation in cancer clinical trials is voluntary, and patients who opt-in have the opportunity to access new and innovative treatments that may not be widely available yet. Clinical trials may submit patients to different risks and benefits, not unlike all cancer treatments. Patients and cancer care teams should consider clinical trials as a primary treatment. Here is what they can expect from clinical trial treatment:
Benefits of Participating in a Clinical Trial
Participation in clinical trials can benefit patients and researchers alike.
Foremost, clinical trials provide patients access to new treatments that may not be readily available, including treatments that could potentially target and treat specific or rare forms of cancer. In the past, many patients may not have considered clinical trials as an option in their treatment plan.
In an analysis, Naoko Takebe, M.D., Ph.D., of NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP) of the National Cancer Institute says that “participating in phase 1 trials has more potential for clinical benefit than is commonly believed, largely due to the development of modern cancer drugs, like targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and new combination therapies.”
Options for cancer treatment continue to rapidly evolve as new research unfolds, which both encourages the further development of clinical trials and solidifies this as an effective treatment method.
Patients who participate in clinical trials can also benefit from the close monitoring that takes place as research is conducted and tracked. Clinical trials often require frequent check-ins and follow-up visits with doctors. This can provide patients with more regular in-depth medical attention than they may receive in a typical clinical facility. This can be especially helpful for patients with advanced or acute cancer who are experiencing significant side effects from treatment.
Clinical trials can sometimes come at a reduced cost for a patient and their families. Patients may need to pay for travel expenses or other services that the research does not cover. However, the cost of clinical trial drugs and treatments is typically covered by the research team. Contacting a cancer navigator can help patients learn more about what treatment may be covered by insurance, and determine if further tests or treatments are recommended by their medical team.
Beyond potentially improved outcomes, participation in clinical trials helps to advance cancer research. Knowing that a patient is assisting scientists and doctors treat current and future cancer patients more effectively can be fulfilling.
While clinical trials can have great results, just like any other treatment, they may not produce the same outcomes for each patient. In addition, because clinical trials are experimental treatments, they may come with unexpected side effects.
While some aspects of clinical trial treatments may be covered by the research entity, not all tests or procedures may be covered. Patients need to speak with their insurance carrier to clarify what is and is not covered should they go forward with a clinical trial.
Another barrier to care is the need for additional appointments, tests, and studies. Trials typically have specific requirements for visits and follow-up, which can require patients to make frequent visits to the trial site.
This means that patients enrolled in these trials need access to reliable transportation. Many cancer navigation services can help arrange this if needed. Time away from family can be an emotional hurdle, as well. It is important for patients to carefully consider their ability to commit to the demands of a clinical trial before enrolling.
How to Enroll in a Clinical Trial
If a patient is interested in enrolling in a clinical trial, it is essential to speak with their care team to weigh risks and benefits, consider the goal of their treatment plan, and address any barriers to care.
Enrollment into clinical trials demands specific eligibility requirements.
The National Cancer Institute states common eligibility criteria:
- Having a certain type or stage of cancer
- Having received (or not having received) a certain kind of therapy in the past
- Having specific genetic changes in your tumor
- Being in a certain age group
- Medical history
- Current health status
If a patient’s care team has identified that a clinical trial could be the right treatment path for them, these are the key next steps that they should take toward enrollment:
- Identify potential clinical trials: There are several resources that can help cancer patients find potential clinical trials, including ClinicalTrials.gov, through cancer centers and hospitals, cancer navigation services, and speaking with their healthcare provider. Their treatment team can provide valuable guidance on clinical trial options and help determine which trials may be most appropriate, including potential risks and benefits.
- Contact the clinical team: Once a patient or their team has identified a clinical trial, they can contact the research team to learn more about the enrollment process. This may involve filling out an application and undergoing medical tests to determine eligibility. Members of a patient’s care team or their cancer navigator can help to facilitate this process.
- Schedule your appointment and start the trial: If accepted into the trial, patients will be required to follow specific protocols. It is important to carefully follow the protocol to ensure the best possible outcome and contribute to the overall success of the trial.
[CTA: Interested in clinical trials, but need help finding the best fit? Speak to a healthcare professional here.]
Sources: The National Cancer Institute: “Phase 1 Cancer Clinical Trials Benefit Participants”