Living with cancer blog

Cancer clinical trials a choice for cancer treatment

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. August 3, 2010

Many of you have written in asking about clinical research or clinical trials as a choice for cancer treatment. It would be good to have a discussion about what cancer clinical trials are and how they can be a choice for cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are research studies that are designed to discover new approaches and improve the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. A clinical trial is one of the final stages of a long and careful research process. Studies are done with cancer patients to discover whether new and promising methods are safe and effective.

Many cancer clinical trials compare standard treatment to new treatment methods to find out if the new approach works better than the standard treatment. This is how doctors and scientists make decisions on the best treatment strategies for each cancer type as well.

Clinical research that involves new drugs or procedures follows a series of phases. This allows researchers to carefully plan for the safest, most optimal treatment while at the same time protecting the patient. Theses phases include:

  • Phase I trials: This is the first stage of researching a new drug or strategy in people. The primary goal of this stage is to study drug administration, safety and effectiveness. Normally these studies involve a small number of people.
  • Phase II trials: This phase continues to test the safety of the new drug or treatment strategy and begins to study how well the new drug works. Phase II studies are usually focused on a specific cancer type.
  • Phase III trials: These studies test new drugs or combination of drugs (or treatment strategies) and compare this to the current standard treatment. People who participate in these trials are assigned to either the standard treatment or the new treatment at random. Phase III clinical trials usually involve a large number of people and are conducted at hospitals and cancer centers around the nation.
  • Phase IV trials: Once a new treatment has been approved, the drug or strategy may be studied to evaluate long-term side effects, risks and benefits over a longer period of time and with a larger number of people.

Clinical research for cancer treatment is the most common form of clinical trials. However, there are also clinical trials designed to study cancer prevention, screening and quality of life.

Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is an NCI-designated cancer center with hundreds of cancer treatment trials being studied on an ongoing basis. It's not uncommon for your cancer doctor or treatment team to discuss the option of a clinical trial as the best treatment choice for your cancer type. This is especially true for cancers in advanced stages, recurrent cancer and cancers that are difficult to cure.

If you have questions about what's right for you, don't hesitate to ask your cancer treatment team about the option of a clinical trial. They can explain what's available and how it compares to the standard treatment for your cancer type.

Please feel free to share with each other through this blog your experiences with clinical trials.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

13 Comments Posted

Aug. 03, 2010