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Expert Analysis Highlights:
The phrase “Clinical Trials” means one of two things to most people: An opportunity to get the latest and greatest new treatment, or a futile human experiment with no major benefit to them. The truth is somewhere in between. The bottom line is that it depends on the trial and its design.
To review, a clinical trial is a program offered by some hospitals which assigns you randomly to receive standard treatment or a new treatment for which the potential benefit is not yet proven. Some trials have 3 “arms” or treatment paths. The key to a good research study from a design standpoint is that patients are randomly assigned to a treatment path and then the outcomes are compared. This is the most scientifically valid way of assessing how good the treatments work.
Here are some useful questions you should ask when deciding whether or not to participate in a clinical trial:
For some trials the new treatment may be very promising, while for other trials, the benefit may be marginal or even negligible based on prior studies.
For your protection, all clinical trials are governed by rules which hospitals are ethically and legally obliged to follow. The rules are: 1) If the benefit of one of the treatment options is clearly apparent during the course of the study, the study must be ended early so that the results can be disseminated and patients do not have to continue a course of treatment which is known to be inferior, 2) You must be informed of every aspect of the design of the study, 3) You can opt out of the trial at any time, and 4) You are entitled to see the results of the study once completed.
Clinical trials serve two purposes: Offering patients the newest treatment options and advancing scientific knowledge for future patients. Consider it not just a way of getting a new treatment, but also a way of helping inform future patients with a similar cancer. In general, clinical trials provide hope for patients whose treatment options might otherwise be limited. Many trials are managed on a multi-institution level, making the trials available on a local level for many patients.
To find out if there is a trial in the area you need treatment, check out clinical trials.gov where all trials are registered. There you will be able to find out what the treatment arms are, whether the trial is open of closed to new patients, and where to go to see if you’re a candidate.