Noah Goldman, MD
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, your doctor may recommend that you participate in a cancer clinical trial.
In general, clinical trials are designed to help find better ways to prevent, screen, diagnose, and treat diseases, including cancer.
Clinical trials can have many benefits for you and future patients, and in some cases they may be the only way to get a newer treatment.
Penn Medicine, Princeton Medical Center (PMC), partners with teams at Abramson Cancer Center, a world leader in cancer research, to help patients access advanced cancer care, including clinical trials.
What are clinical trials?
Clinical trials are studies involving patient volunteers. Research is being done to find safe and effective treatments for various diseases, including cancer.
Clinical trials compare new treatments with the current standard of care and are the final step in the process of developing new tests and treatments for cancer.
Every clinical trial has a protocol or plan of action for conducting the trial. The plan describes what the study will do, how it will be conducted, and why each part of the study is necessary.
At PMC, clinical trials are approved, monitored, and reviewed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) composed of physicians, statisticians, and community members.
The role of the IRB is to make sure that the research is ethical, to protect the rights and welfare of the participants, and to make sure that the risks are reasonable compared to the benefits.
What are the benefits and risks?
Clinical trials are critical to improving patient health and advancing medicine.
Participating in clinical trials gives patients the opportunity to try new and effective treatments that can potentially improve their condition, while participating in vital research that can benefit many future patients.
Clinical trials can involve risks. In many cases, it’s not known how effective a treatment is or what side effects patients may experience, which is what researchers try to determine in trials.
However, a common misconception people have when it comes to cancer clinical trials is that participants may be denied some aspects of care.
In fact, the opposite is true.
When participating in clinical trials, patients receive the same standard of care as all cancer patients. They are not denied care and can sometimes receive additional tests or treatments as part of a trial.
Cancer patients may be hesitant to sign up for trials because they already have many challenges when it comes to medical issues. But the truth is, for some patients, participation may just mean an extra scan or an extra blood draw.
As the American Cancer Society points out, while people in clinical trials may have to make more visits to the clinic and have more lab tests than with standard treatment, most people in clinical trials like the extra attention they get from their oncology and research groups.
Are you a candidate?
Each trial has specific inclusion and exclusion guidelines, so patients may not be eligible for every available trial. In general, researchers take into account age, gender, type and stage of cancer, treatment history and other medical conditions.
Treating doctors usually recommend qualified patients for clinical trials, but it’s also a good idea for patients to learn about what’s available. Any number of trials can be run at any given time, so patients have constant opportunities to participate.
What questions should be asked?
If you are considering participating in a clinical trial, the American Cancer Society suggests asking the research doctor or nurse the following questions:
• Why is this research being done?
• How long will I participate in the clinical trial?
• How often should I be seen?
• Where do I need to go for treatment and tests?
• Who do I call if I have a problem?
• Will I have to pay for anything?
• What are my other options?
Other types of questions you may ask depend on the type of treatment you are being offered.
Most medical interventions used today are the result of past clinical trials. Voluntary participation in clinical trials can lead to improvements in the way cancer is treated and can have a significant impact on your care and the care of future patients.
For more information about cancer clinical trials at Princeton Medical Center, call 609-853-6786 or visit princetonhcs.org/cancer.
Noah Goldman, MD, is board certified in gynecologic oncology and is the medical director of cancer programs at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.