Clinical trials

Nearly every type of cancer — and melanoma in particular — has benefited from scientific advancements in recent years. In fact, virtually all of the cancer-fighting drugs and devices currently available exist only because they were thoroughly tested beforehand. These tests, known as clinical trials, are research studies designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and other types of therapies. Many of these trials have led to remarkable successes in the advancement of melanoma treatment in recent years.

Trials are led by physicians and other research professionals and are usually sponsored by government agencies (such as the National Cancer Institute), by groups of doctors and health care institutions or by the pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies that develop the new treatments.

The primary benefit of a clinical trial is access to the highest quality of cancer treatment, with the possibility of receiving a new treatment before it is widely available. People who have participated in a clinical trial have identified several perceived advantages to participation, including having access to the best available care, receiving newer and better treatments, receiving increased medical attention, playing an active role in their own health care, and making a valuable contribution to cancer research.

If you consider participating in a trial, it is important to know that all clinical trials are developed according to strict scientific and ethical principles and are conducted under the supervision of physicians and expert research professionals. Every clinical trial follows a set of rules called a protocol. The protocol defines the eligibility criteria, specifies the tests to be done and the procedures to be used, describes the medications and their doses and establishes the duration of the study. Several safeguards are in place and regulated to ensure the safety of all participants.

Many people recognize the possible benefits of a clinical trial but are afraid of the risks. Participation is always voluntary, and you can choose not to participate for personal reasons. Also, you can agree to enter a clinical trial and then decide to withdraw if it doesn’t meet your expectations. Your decision about whether to participate has no effect on your routine medical care.

Because clinical trials do carry a risk of the unknown, such as the possibility of unanticipated side effects, the potential risks and benefits of each trial are explained to every participant using clear and concise language in a manner that is easily understood. After this explanation, participants must sign an agreement to say that they understand the potential risks and benefits.

Through trials, physicians have been able to confirm the potential benefits of new therapies, such as improved survival rates, reduced complications and lessened side effects. They can also identify characteristics of the patients who are most likely to receive maximum benefit from specific treatments. Thanks to clinical trials, more treatment options are now becoming available for people with all cancer types, including melanoma.



Thousands of cancer clinical trials are taking place throughout the world, so it can be difficult to know what is available and what trials you may qualify for. Networking and communication among doctors is helpful, so be sure to ask your care team about any clinical trials you may qualify for within a reasonable traveling distance for you. In addition to talking to your doctor, an increasing number of websites are becoming available where patients can find out about available clinical trials (see above).

Anyone with a cancer diagnosis should consider participating in a clinical trial. There are varying levels of involvement, from simply allowing your medical information to be used for research to receiving new treatments. Knowing all of your treatment options, including what clinical trials are available, allows you to make more informed treatment decisions.


Questions to ask when considering a clinical trial

  • Why is this trial being done?
  • Why is it believed that the treatment being studied may be better than the standard treatment?
  • What are my other options (standard treatments, other studies)?
  • What were the results of any previous studies of this new treatment?
  • What are the possible side effects or risks of the new treatment?
  • What are the possible benefits?
  • How will the doctor measure if the treatment is working?
  • Can I choose to continue to get this treatment after the trial ends?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • What kinds of procedures or tests are involved?
  • What impact will the trial have on my daily life?
  • Will I have to travel to receive treatment? Will I be compensated for expenses?
  • How often will I need to travel to receive treatment?
  • Will I have to be hospitalized as part of the trial?
  • What type of long-term follow-up care will be done?
  • Will I still be under the care of my doctor, or will I see someone different?
  • What costs (if any) will be my responsibility to pay?


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