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Wilmot Cancer Institute / Research / Clinical Trials / What is a Clinical Trial?

What is a Clinical Trial?

mohile photoClinical trials are the backbone of cancer research, identifying better and safer treatments for patients.

They are studies that directly involve patients who volunteer to participate. By consenting to enroll in a trial, an individual agrees to receive a certain drug or medical device, or physical or behavioral therapy (a diet or exercise routine, for example). Some trials also test ways to diagnose diseases, prevent cancer, or to manage side effects.

Clinical trials are the most responsible, coordinated way to test the safety and effectiveness of new therapies. Today’s standard cancer treatments were developed in research labs and then proven to be useful after being evaluated in carefully planned clinical trials.

  • Some trials look at differences between two treatments. Other studies use molecular and gene characteristics of tumors and seek to target those biomarkers with precision therapies. In many randomized clinical trials, patients enrolled may receive the best standard therapy; others may be randomly assigned to receive a newer treatment either instead of, or in addition to, the established treatment.
  • It is a myth that clinical trials are only for patients who have exhausted all other options. In fact, some cancer trials are open to patients immediately, offering a chance to receive the latest treatments for a specific type of disease. Other studies are designed to develop better diagnostic testing.
  • Ask your doctor or oncology nurse about clinical trials and eligibility requirements.

Many trials have strict criteria for participation —which can be frustrating for patients — because the study was intentionally designed to answer well-defined questions such as: Is one treatment more tolerable than another? Will the newer therapy prolong life for patients with this type of cancer? Sometimes patients are excluded from clinical trials due to previous cancer treatments, age, tumor type, or other health problems such as heart disease or diabetes. These criteria are in place not only to ensure trial integrity but for the safety of the participants