Clinical Trials for Survivors

Nearly all of the cancer-fighting drugs and treatment methods currently available exist because they were thoroughly tested beforehand. These tests, known as clinical trials, are research studies developed to evaluate different methods of treatment.

Clinical trials may be appropriate for you whether you are currently in treatment or have finished because they study various aspects of cancer. By participating in clinical trials, you may have access to treatments otherwise unavailable. Plus, you’ll contribute to the research necessary to expand cancer care and help others who have a similar disease share the benefits of new discoveries.

Types of Clinical Trials

Five types of cancer clinical trials exist. Treatment trials are specifically for individuals who have cancer and evaluate whether a new treatment, such as drug therapy, surgery or radiation therapy, or new combinations of treatments, is better than what is currently considered to be the standard of care.

Quality-of-life trials, which are clinical trials for supportive and palliative care, study ways to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors. These studies focus on people who are experiencing symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment. These trials also study the effects of nutrition, group therapy, counseling and other therapies that may help cancer patients and survivors.

The other three types – prevention, screening and diagnostic trials – evaluate and study ways to reduce the chances of getting cancer. Many participants do not have cancer but have in the past and are at risk for recurrence (the cancer returning) or a second cancer (development of a new type of cancer).

Reasons to Participate

Many cancer survivors experience short- and long-term effects of cancer and its treatments that may decrease their quality of life or cause additional health problems. Late effects of cancer treatment are side effects that can occur after treatment ends and may include cognitive changes, neuropathy, reproductive complications or pain. There are clinical trials specifically designed to study some of these and other late effects of cancer.

Some clinical studies focus on the effectiveness and safety of certain drug combinations or dosages or the usefulness of different therapies for helping cancer survivors, such as behavioral therapy, exercise and nutrition.

How to Find a Clinical Trial

To find a clinical trial, you can use resources such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NCI offers a searchable online list of more than 12,000 active clinical research trials, and the NIH runs, the largest clinical trials database available. You can search studies by cancer type or condition, location or treatment type, or simply by using keywords. You don’t have to wait for your doctor to recommend a clinical trial. You are encouraged to do research on your own and talk with your doctor about participating in one.

Qualifying for a Clinical Trial

All clinical trials have a protocol (description of what is being done, how and why) and eligibility requirements (factors that determine whether you qualify to participate in that specific trial). It’s likely that you will undergo medical testing prior to being accepted for the trial to determine whether you meet all the requirements. The eligibility criteria for a study help researchers eliminate factors that may alter the purpose or focus of a study. Once accepted for the study, a participant may opt out of the study at any time for any reason.

Covering the Cost of a Clinical Trial

Costs associated with a clinical trial fall into two categories: patient-care costs and research costs. Patient-care costs are related to your treatment outside of the study, such as doctor visits, hospital stays or certain testing procedures (lab tests, imaging tests). Check with your insurance provider to see if these costs are covered.

Research costs are those directly related to the study, such as the expense of the study drug and testing performed for research purposes, or additional doctor visits. It’s common for the trial sponsor to cover these costs but it’s not guaranteed, and insurance typically does not cover research costs. It’s important to talk to your insurance provider before taking part in a clinical trial.

What to Expect if You Participate

The clinical trial research team will give you specific instructions, evaluate your health at the beginning of the trial, monitor it carefully during the trial, and stay in touch after the trial ends. To receive the greatest benefit, you should carefully follow the instructions provided and remain in contact with the research staff. Trials are usually conducted in a hospital, doctor’s office or community clinic.

Additional Resources


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