Clinical trials are a contentious part of cancer care because they represent all of the unknowns that come along with a cancer diagnosis. Will the trial work? Is it better than the standard treatment? Bombarded with an enormous amount of information and overwhelmed by anxiety, it can be hard for patients to decide what path to take.
If you’re a cancer patient considering a clinical trial, don’t write it off as a last result. According to experts, clinical trials have a lot of potential benefits that go far beyond contributing to scientific progress – and they could be right for you.
Trial Success Stats
One reason that many cancer patients are anxious to enroll in clinical trials is because of the perception that the majority of these trials fail. What most people don’t understand, though, is that treatments have to show some degree of efficacy in vitro before they’re offered to patients. Additionally, while many professionals and resources cite the statistic that only 3-9% of all drugs make it from Phase 1 to market, in fact, 13.8% of drugs pass clinical trials. Cancer drugs are statistically less successful, but even a drug that doesn’t make it to market will likely benefit some patients.
Time It Right
For those patients who are open to participating in clinical trials as part of their cancer treatment, another major question is when to participate. In particular, many patients think that clinical trials are a last line of defense, something you only do when all other treatment has been exhausted. In reality, though, advanced stage clinical trials often offer innovative care which patients otherwise couldn’t access. And patients who haven’t undergone chemotherapy, radiation, or other forms of cancer treatment, also known as being treatment naive, are often the best candidates for clinical trials.
Get Provider Attention
Cancer patients are more closely monitored than those with nearly any other condition, but even when subject to this higher level of care, most patients with a serious health condition wish they had a closer relationship with their doctors. Well, patients in clinical trials get exactly that: the research team will monitor you closely, and you’ll have access to some of the top providers in the country. Clinical study sites are also typically part of a wider network of care providers who are participating in the same research, and they work together to guide you through treatment.
Make A Breakthrough
Current cancer treatment protocols are more effective than ever before, thanks to clinical trials because these studies help us understand cancer’s mechanism at the cellular level, but for studies to succeed, they need participants. As a clinical trial participant, then, you’re taking a calculated risk in hopes that it will make a difference for thousands of other cancer patients.
Countless patients are participating in groundbreaking trials right now. For example, one current study focuses on immunotherapy trials for triple-negative breast cancer, one of the hardest variants to treat. Preliminary results suggest a combination of this treatment and traditional chemotherapy offer patients the best chances of survival when faced with this aggressive form of cancer, but patients needed to take the risk to prove its worth.
A Measured Risk
There are many benefits to participating in clinical trials, and just as with any form of cancer treatment, there are also risks. Phase I and II trials present a greater likelihood of serious side effects, while new treatments also may require more frequent hospital visits, blood draws, and other tests. Depending on the study, there’s also a chance you’ll be assigned to the placebo group, or receive conventional treatment as a comparison. Simply put, clinical trials always include some element of the unknown. Your job, then, is to decide whether those risks outweigh the benefits.
Your doctor can help you understand what clinical trials you may be eligible for, but be prepared to be your own advocate. You need to stand up for what you think is best for your health and what treatments match your care philosophy.