Cancer Treatment: Is a Clinical Trial Right for You?

May. 19, 2016

Doctor talking to patientWhen it comes to cancer, especially brain cancer, the treatments available today are better than what we had even 10 years ago, but they are still not perfect. The only way to continue improving treatment for any disease is through clinical trials.

Dr. Nimish A. Mohile, a neuro-oncologist who works primarily with people who have brain tumors, has enrolled many of his patients in clinical trials. He shares a few facts everyone should know when it comes to clinical trials.

Fact #1: Clinical trials make new treatments — and potential cures — possible.

After a scientific discovery for a potential new treatment is made in the laboratory, it undergoes years of study before it can move to the clinical trial stage, when the treatment is introduced to patients. Clinical trials act as a bridge between the laboratory and adoption of a new treatment standard for a disease. They help make sure drugs are not only safe, but effective.

Besides evaluating new drugs, clinical trials sometimes look at whether drugs approved for one disease could work for another. For example, immunotherapy drugs, which use the immune system to attack cancer cells, have been approved for use in some cancers, such as melanoma. Clinical trials are helping us determine whether these immunotherapy treatments might also be effective for brain cancer.

Fact #2: Eligibility for clinical trials varies.

Eligibility for a trial may differ based on a cancer’s stage, and those who have just been diagnosed may have different clinical trial options than those who have had their disease return. It’s difficult to plan ahead for a trial because trials are constantly opening and closing. Enrolling in a clinical trial often comes down to what’s available at that time for the eligible patient.

Fact #3: Trials are conducted in multiple phases.

Phase I and II clinical trials tend to involve smaller groups of people and focus more on evaluating the treatment’s safety and dosage. Phase III trials not only confirm a drug’s effectiveness but also, in the case of cancer trials, compare results to the standard of care. New treatments are compared to current treatments to see if the new option is scientifically better than the current one.

Fact #4: People volunteer for clinical trials for various reasons.

Sometimes people participate in clinical trials because they have no other standard treatment options left or because the initial, standard treatment regimen wasn’t successful. Some participate because an aspect of the trial is appealing to them or fits better with their lifestyle than the standard treatment.

Of course, there are also many who participate simply to give back. By being involved in a clinical trial, they receive the medical care they need while also potentially helping find better ways to treat those diagnosed with a similar disease in the future.

Fact #5: Not all hospitals have strong clinical trial programs.

Historically, clinical trials have only been available at larger academic medical centers. While some non-academic hospitals have begun offering clinical trials, academic medical centers still tend to offer more options in comparison.

The University of Rochester Medical Center currently has 10 open clinical trials just for brain tumors, the most for brain tumors of any place in upstate New York. Wilmot Cancer Institute had more than 1,000 patients with various types of cancer participate in clinical trials last year.

Fact #6: You have the right to ask about clinical trials and to join a trial if you’re eligible.

If you’re being treated for cancer, ask your medical team if you may be eligible for any clinical trials. You can search for clinical trials related to cancer through the University of Rochester Medical Center's online database.