Oftentimes when we hear the word “cancer,” we hear nothing else. Our brains stop processing information. We think we’re going to die, that there is little or no time to weigh options and/or get our affairs in order.
Fortunately, that last part the vast majority of the time isn’t true. We DON’T have to rush into anything. We DO have time to weigh our treatment options. And for many patients, those options can include enrolling in a clinical trial.
What is a clinical trial?
According to PAF, the Patient Advocacy Foundation, clinical trials are research studies in which we patients can help doctors find ways to improve cancer care.
There are several types of trials
- Treatment: to test a new drug or approach to surgery
- Prevention: to test new approaches with medicine, vitamins, minerals to help lower the risk of developing certain cancers
- Screening: Best ways to detect cancer early
- Quality of Life: Explore ways to comfort, quality of life for patients
Why participate in a clinical trial?
Through clinical trials, doctors and researchers find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Patients can benefit by receiving cutting-edge care or emerging medications. Rarely are placebos, or fake medications, used in clinical trials. Patients for the most part are being given the current standard of care or the new treatment, to determine the following:
- Phase I: Is the new treatment safe?
- Phase II: Does the new treatment work?
- Phase III: Does the new treatment work better than the current one?
Is a clinical trial right for me?
There are risks and benefits. A good place to start making an assessment is with your physician. Often, we’ll hear about a clinical trial from our doctor. However, you don’t have to have your doc’s OK to enroll in a trial, and it’s key to determine which trial is right for you.
While there is no one source to learn about all cancer clinical trials, you can break it down into clinical trial lists and matching services.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI): 1-800-4-CANCER (422-6237 NCI sponsors most government-funded trials. You can search by the type and stage of cancer, by the type of study (treatment or prevention) or by zip code.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH database is larger than NCI but not all trials are cancer studies
CenterWatch: CenterWatch provides a list both of industry-sponsored and government-funded clinical trials for cancer and other diseases.
Private companies: Pharma or biotech companies may list studies they are sponsoring, either on their websites or through a toll-free number. You can search a company with the words ‘clinical trials’ in the search. If that company is conducting trials, it will appear in your search. For example:
You get the idea.
As for those clinical trial matching services, each one works differently. Some may charge a fee to the trial sponsor. It could impact the way studies are ranked or presented to you. We suggest you start with the free sites. Sources include:
The American Cancer Society Clinical Trials Matching Service: 1-800-303-5691 ASC works with a company called Eviti to connect patients with trials. It’s free. It’s confidential. It’s reliable. The lists are updated daily, and it allows patients to contact health care providers running the studies. The website also explains how to determine if you are eligible for a trial, if a trial is right for you.
EmergingMed: 1-877—601-8601 Also free, confidential and reliable for cancer patients seeking a trial.
Various organizations have partnered with EmergingMed and offer widgets that link to the EmergingMed trial finder. For instance, both the sites below link the viewer to the EmergingMed clinical trial finder:
There is a wealth of information here. But you don’t have to become a Medical Doctor to digest and evaluate it. Start with your physician. If he or she doesn’t have enough information, choose a website or two on this list to navigate for information about trials. That’s what I’ll be doing should the day come that I need additional treatment. We are our best advocates about what’s right for us and when.