Clinical Trials In Immunotherapy

The advances in cancer treatment helping to save lives today are all products of research, and much of that research is done through clinical trials. The discoveries made in immunotherapy clinical trials have resulted in some of the most promising cancer treatments we have seen in decades. They have changed the way that cancer is treated and will impact the way that we treat cancer in the future.

While immunotherapy is on the forefront of cancer research and is bringing new hope to many people with different cancer types, but it has not been approved for every cancer type. This is why the research being conducted in clinical trials is so important.

Clinical trials may be an appropriate treatment option so it’s important to understand what they may mean for you. Clinical trials are research studies that:

  • Evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a medical strategy, treatment or device.
  • Develop “standards of care” by helping identify which treatments work best for certain illnesses or groups of people.
  • Offer opportunities for people with cancer to access cutting-edge treatments that are not yet widely available.

Along with enabling you to contribute to future advances, clinical trials present many potential benefits, such as the opportunity to access leading-edge treatments that aren’t yet widely available. They may be an alternative if your current treatment isn’t working as well as it once was, or if you have a rare type of cancer that hasn’t been studied much. You will also be more closely monitored in a clinical trial because your regular oncologist and the clinical trial medical team will be attending to your needs. Even after the treatment ends, you will be in close contact with the medical team.

Types of Clinical Trials

There are three types of clinical trials.

  1. Treatment Trials evaluate whether a new type of treatment (drug, surgery, radiation therapy) or a combination is better than the treatment options that are currently available.
  2. Quality-of-Life Trials study ways to improve the quality of life for people being treated for cancer and cancer survivors who experience disease-related and treatment-related symptoms. This type of trial may evaluate the effects of such things as nutrition, group therapy or counseling.
  3. Prevention, Screening and Diagnostic Trials assess ways to reduce the chance of getting cancer in general. In these trials, which may be treatment or nontreatment trials, many participants do not have cancer, but some have had cancer and are at risk of the cancer returning (recurring) or a second cancer type developing. Sometimes these trials consist of simply completing questionnaires and providing medical information.

What to Expect

Clinical trials are carefully thought out, planned and performed in an extremely consistent manner so that all patients are treated exactly the same, from medication dosage and schedule to the frequency of follow-up appointments. Institutional review boards or ethics committees carefully set up safeguards to make sure that all patients in the clinical trial remain safe throughout the process. Whether you’re at a small rural hospital or a large facility in a metropolitan area, your medical team is responsible for diligently following all of the same protocols and safety measures for your treatment plan across the board. You will be carefully monitored throughout the clinical trial. Even after the treatment ends, you will continue to be in close contact with the medical team.

When you volunteer to participate in a clinical trial, you will receive specific instructions and an Informed Consent form. You are encouraged to ask questions about anything you don’t fully understand before signing and returning the form. This is the ideal time to talk with your medical team about the many falsehoods that persist about clinical trials. For example, there is a fear that by participating in a clinical trial, patients may receive a placebo or may not receive standard care. This is false. They will never receive a placebo instead of a cancer treatment. They will receive the standard of care as a foundation and then the experimental treatment or a placebo may be added to the standard treatment.

Participation in clinical trials is always voluntary, even after the study begins. Even though you sign the form saying that you understand the potential risks involved, you can decide to leave the trial at any time. If your expectations aren’t met or if you experience too many side effects, you can withdraw and return to standard-of-care treatment.

Financial Considerations

Cost is a common concern when considering participating in clinical trials, and your doctor or study team can discuss if there will be any specific costs to you if you agree to participate in a clinical trial.

Routine patient care costs typically include those related to doctor visits, hospital stays and some testing procedures that are part of standard care and may be covered by your insurance. Research costs, which are directly related to the clinical trial and include drugs and procedures, are typically covered by the trial sponsor. Sponsors of clinical trials include government agencies (such as the National Cancer Institute), independent groups of doctors and health care institutions, or the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries. Before dismissing the idea of participating because of the cost, research available resources and explore your insurance plan benefits. You may find that you can have access to an innovative treatment and be an integral part of cancer research without incurring a great deal of additional expense.

Find a Clinical Trial


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