Clinical Trials

clinical trial reseearch
photo by Rhoda Baer, NCI

Search the term 'cancer' at the clinical trials page run by the US National Institutes of Health, and you'll find almost 27,000 trials that in one manner or another deal with cancer, whether it's a basic questionnaire or a pivotal phase III trial of a potential blockbuster anticancer drug1.

Although commonly perceived otherwise, many people with cancer rightly consider clinical trials a treatment option. For some, trial participation is a potential opportunity to be among the first to receive a breakthrough treatment. For others, clinical trials represent the last available line of therapy.

Efficacy of clinical trials

Clinical trial participants contribute to the development of new cancer treatments and a deeper understanding of the disease, all while being monitored more closely as patients than they would be monitored anywhere else. Clinical trials offer participants high-quality cancer care, regardless of whether they are randomized into a group given the experimental treatment, because the control group will receive the best known treatment available2. Furthermore, clinical trials offer patients the easiest means of gaining access to unapproved cancer treatment options3.

Side effects: Overview

Given within the fundamental nature of a clinical trial is an element of risk; the trial is after all exploring the safety and efficacy of an unapproved drug. In cancer treatment clinical trials, side effects are typical of what is seen in approved drugs—nausea, hair loss, diarrhea, and more. Potential participants need to weigh the risks against the benefits in any trial, but they can do so knowing that legal and ethical codes govern all clinical trials and that they are federally regulated to ensure the highest level of patient safety that is possible4.


  1. Search 'Cancer'
  2. National Cancer Institute: Deciding to Take Part in Clinical Trials
  3. CancerActionNOW: Accessing unapproved drugs
  4. Understanding Clinical Trials

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