Why cancer patients should weigh this option from day one

Clinical trials are the place where cancer research and patient care come together. For those who qualify, trials can provide access to the latest cancer treatments -- but most patients know very little about this option, says Katie Dahlquist, who leads the Clinical Trials Matching Service at our National Cancer Information Center. Here, Katie responds to questions she and her team hear daily from patients and caregivers.

How do clinical trials work?

These are studies by cancer experts who’ve developed a new treatment and need further proof of its effectiveness. Study leaders give clear criteria outlining the kinds of patients who can take part.

For example, they may seek patients with colon cancer who’ve just been diagnosed, or children with blood cancers who’ve tried standard treatments without success. Trials take place all over the U.S. and are classified as Phase 1, 2 or 3 – with Phase 3 being the final step before FDA approval.

What are the benefits of taking part?

For those who qualify, clinical trials can provide cutting-edge treatment supervised by excellent medical teams. We recommend that every time someone is making a treatment decision, clinical trials be considered among the options.

Will I get a placebo instead of real treatment?

That’s the #1 worry we hear. The good news is that all trial patients receive either the standard treatment or the new treatment that’s being tested – never less.

Aren’t clinical trials only for people who’ve tried all the other options?

No. Many studies take newly diagnosed patients, so it’s OK to ask your doctor about trials from the very start.

Will my doctors think I don’t trust them if I ask about this option?

We work closely with doctors, nurses and clinicians to coordinate care for hundreds of patients. Even those who don’t end up choosing clinical trials say that by opening the discussion with their doctors, they learned more and felt more involved in their own care.

If I want to consider being in a trial, how can the American Cancer Society help?

Our clinical trials specialists are always ready to support patients and loved ones. We use a database with information on 9,000 current trials to match patients with trials based on their unique needs. Once you’ve selected a trial, we can help you contact the trial sponsor and link you with helpful resources – for example, our free air miles program with United Airlines for those who travel for treatment.

Can I call even if I’m not sure and just want to talk it over?

Whatever form of cancer you have, we’re here for you and your family. Even if you don’t choose a clinical trial in the end, the conversation may make you feel clearer about the process. Reach out to us anytime you want to learn more.

800.303.5691 | 7:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Central, Monday – Friday

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