Clinical trials exist to test safety and efficacy of new drugs or treatments for a variety of diseases, syndromes and conditions. Some who have been diagnosed with cancer may contemplate whether or not a clinical trial is right for them or if they should opt for a more traditional or “proven” option for treatment. There are a variety of benefits and risks to clinical trial and all of these should be discussed with your treating physician to determine what is best for you and your health.
First, it is important to take a careful look at the benefits of participating in a clinical trial because if they did not exist we would not be having this conversation. One of the first, and most apparent, benefits of participating in a clinical trial is that you may have access to treatment that is not yet available. Next, you will be closely monitored by a team of highly skilled cancer physicians and scientists so you know you will be in good hands with very focused care. Additionally, with some clinical trials there is short-term and long-term follow-up care that may be available to you. By participating in a clinical trial you may receive treatment at a reduced or free cost depending on the specific clinical trial in which you are enrolled. Also, if you participate in a clinical trial you will get to have the knowledge that you have helped further cancer treatment and provide valuable research that may help better treat cancer in the future. All of these benefits are significant, providing empowerment by taking control of your healthcare, pride in potentially helping to save lives in the future and possible early access to the newest, most-groundbreaking treatments available.
While the benefits we discussed are immense and compelling, it is still critical that you weigh both the benefits and the risks to have a full picture when making your decision. When participating in a clinical trial you may have access to the newest treatments but you also may not. While you will not receive a “placebo,” you may receive the best available standard cancer treatment but not the new treatment that is being tested because not all participants can receive the new treatment. An additional drawback of participating in a clinical trial, even if you do receive the newest treatment, it may not work for you (though this is the risk you take when choosing any treatment plan). Also, because you are participating in a clinical trial that is testing out a new treatment protocol, not all potential side effects may be known. This means that you may experience some unpleasant, and potentially very serious side effects. These side effects may be less, the same or worse than the side effects that you may experience with standard cancer treatment. Finally, participating in a clinical trial may take of your time and energy and may even be inconvenient. Some short travel, extra appointments or additional lab work may be required when participating in a clinical trial. While this may seem small, consider how you may be feeling during cancer treatment and determine whether or not this potential inconvenience may be too much for you while undergoing treatment. If the benefits outweigh the risks, or you have exhausted other avenues of treatment and your physician recommends a clinical trial, participating in a clinical trial can be a rewarding experience with many potential advantages for your cancer treatment.