Caribou: What are Clinical Trials?

July 31, 2020



July 31, 2020

Today, people are living longer lives from successful cancer treatments that are the results of past clinical trials. Knowing all you can about clinical trials can help you feel confident when deciding whether or not you or a loved one should take part in a trial during treatment.

But what exactly do clinical trials involve?

What are Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are medical research studies that involve people who volunteer to test new drugs or treatment approaches. These trials help doctors and researchers determine whether new treatments are safe and work better than the existing standard of care. These types of research studies are essential in advancing any new treatment and improving healthcare for people both now, and in the future. 

Clinical trials, and more specifically, cancer clinical trials, are the engine that drive cancer treatment forward. Clinical cancer trials are studies that compare the most effective known treatment for a specific type or stage of cancer with a new approach. This can be a new drug, combination of drugs, or a different way of using established therapies. 

In many instances, cancer clinical trials are the only way for a patient to access new or experimental therapies before it is approved by the FDA for general use. There are also trials that involve new approaches to surgery and radiation therapy. While many cancer clinical trials focus on late stage disease, it is a myth that they are only for people who have advanced cancer that is not responding to treatment. 

Researchers also design trials to:

  • prevent cancer

  • improve early diagnosis

  • stop the cancer from coming back 

  • Reduce side effects or improve quality of life

Researchers conduct clinical trials in many different settings. Major cancer centers, such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, are often the focal points of clinical trial research due to their advanced facilities and highly trained staff. 

Every trial has a person in charge, usually a doctor, who is called the principal investigator. The principal investigator prepares a plan for the trial, called a protocol which explains what will be done during the trial. It also contains information about who can join the trial (called “eligibility criteria”) that helps the doctor decide if this treatment is right for you. 

Each trial is conducted in a 4 step series called “phases.” Each phase has a different purpose and helps researchers answer different questions. For more information on each specific phase and other common terms found in the processes of clinical trials, check out this simplified glossary to help you during your clinical trial research. 

Why Do We Need Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are the best way to learn what works best in improving the quality of life of those faced with a cancer diagnosis. They are the key to making progress against cancer. 

However, the biggest barrier to completing clinical trials is that not enough people take part in them. Fewer than 5% of adults (less than 1 in 20) with cancer will take part in a clinical trial. 

Clinical trials are much more commonly used to treat children with cancer. In fact, 60% of children under age 15 participate in clinical trials. This is one reason that survival rates for childhood cancer have increased so dramatically in the last few decades. When asked, people say they didn’t take part in a clinical trial because that they didn’t know it was an option for them.

Can I Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Everyone facing a cancer diagnosis of any kind should be aware of clinical trials as a treatment option. Speaking with your doctor or care team is a good first step if you are considering a cancer clinical trial or want to know if you meet the eligibility criteria of a specific study.

Once enrolled in a clinical trial, it is also important to note that you have the right to leave at any time, for any reason. If you do decide to leave the study, talk to your doctor first. You will want to know how quitting the study might affect your health and your other treatment options.

Clinical trials are at the forefront of enhancing treatments for serious diseases like cancer. They offer hope for many people and a chance to help researchers find better treatments for future patients. Participating in a cancer clinical trial offers a chance to benefit from a new therapy or approach, and to also learn about innovations in cancer care. 

Inquiring about clinical trials can be an intimidating process.  If you are still unsure if a clinical trial is the right option for you, you might consider working with a Healthcare Advisor at Caribou to help you navigate the world of clinical trials.