Clinical trials, or clinical research studies, take the first steps toward introducing new and better ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer, by evaluating their use in people.
Without them, there would be no progress toward cancer cures. People who take part in clinical trials stand to benefit from promising new treatments that are not available to everyone. Participants also have the opportunity to contribute valuable information to research that might help other cancer patients in the future.
Clinical trials may study new ways of preventing cancer in healthy people through drugs, diet, and exercise; new drugs for treating cancer patients; or better ways of using current treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Many people misunderstand the purpose of clinical trials and how they are conducted. Roswell Park Cancer Institute provides some common myths—and the facts that patients and their families need to make informed decisions about whether to participate.
A common clinical trial myth is that participants are thought of as human guinea pigs
The Myth: In a clinical trial, you are little more than a human guinea pig in a lab experiment.
The Truth: In designing clinical trials, physicians have two concerns: that all patients who participate receive the highest quality medical care, and that rigorous scientific principles are followed to allow meaningful conclusions to be drawn. Compelling evidence must exist that suggests that the investigational drug or other therapy is at least as good as the standard. In every clinical trial, patient welfare and safety are the major considerations.
The Myth: Because Roswell Park is a research institute, all patients treated there must take part in clinical trials.
The Truth: About half of all Roswell Park patients are eligible to participate in clinical trials, but it is only an option. It is entirely the patient’s decision to enroll or not.
The Myth: Once you are enrolled in a clinical trial, you must continue, even if you change your mind.
The Truth: Clinical trial participants always have the right to withdraw—at any time, for any reason.
The Myth: If you take part in a clinical trial, you might receive a placebo (a pill, liquid or powder that contains no medicine; sometimes called a “sugar pill”) instead of real medicine.
The Truth: Few cancer clinical trials use placebos, and they are never given to cancer patients in place of treatment. Cancer patients who take part in clinical trials must receive at least the best standard treatment available. In many cases, they will receive a new and better therapy being evaluated.
The Myth: If you are thinking of enrolling on a clinical trial, you won’t be told in advance about everything that’s going to happen.
The Truth: The rights and interests of people who enroll in clinical trials are carefully protected by an Internal Review Board (IRB) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In a process called informed consent, anyone who is thinking about enrolling in a clinical trial must receive detailed information about the study so they can make an informed decision about participating.
The Myth: You should enroll in a clinical trial only if there are no other treatment options left.
The Truth: Most cancer patients should consider participating in a clinical trial as one of their treatment options. There are trials for all different types and stages of cancer. Participants are monitored carefully throughout the trial, so they receive excellent care and can be the first to benefit from new treatments before they are available to everyone.
To learn more about clinical trials or to find open clinical trials at Roswell Park, visit www.roswellpark.org click on Patient Care --> Clinical Trials) or call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724). You can also search for open clinical trials across the nation at the National Institutes of Health website, at www.clinicaltrials.gov.
This article orginally appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Roswellness .