Sarah Cannon - May 20, 2015

Clinical trials are an integral part of cancer research, as today's trials are tomorrow's treatments. The United States Congress declared the month of May National Cancer Research Month. It is a time to raise awareness about the importance of cancer research, and today, May 20 is International Clinical Trials Day. People often have many questions surrounding clinical trials- how do they work? How do I take part? Why should I consider joining a clinical trial? Why are these drugs not approved by the FDA? Clinical trials are an important part of cancer care because every cancer therapy, drug or approach that is in place today had its start in a clinical trial.

Types of Clinical Trials

There are many types of clinical trials but the goal of research is the same: to add to the existing medical knowledge related to the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of cancer and to improve the treatment of cancer. Successful clinical trials ultimately lead to new drugs being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA approval means that the drugs have proved safe and effective and can be distributed to the public in the United States. View a list of drugs that have been approved in 2015 for treatment in cancer.

Clinical Trial Participants

But what about the participants, why do they participate in a clinical trial? For some, taking part in a clinical trial is a way to contribute to medical research in a very personal way and can affect patients like themselves for generations to come. For others, a clinical trial offers access to the most promising investigational treatments before they are widely available - an important consideration if all other therapies have been exhausted.[iii]

If you’re thinking of taking part in a clinical trial, you can learn more about clinical trials .

Once you find a trial and meet the eligibility requirements, you will go through a process called informed consent. During this process, your healthcare team and members of the research team conducting the trial will tell you all you need to know about the trial, including answers to the questions below:

  • What is the purpose of the trial? Why do researchers believe this treatment may work?
  • What kinds of tests and treatments are involved in the trial?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects of this treatment? How do the risks and benefits compare to those of other treatments?
  • How will the trial affect my daily life?
  • How often will I have to visit the hospital or clinic? Will hospitalization be required?
  • How long will I be in the trial?
  • Do I have to pay for any of the treatments? What costs will my health insurance cover?
  • If I benefit from this intervention, will I be allowed to continue receiving it after the trial ends?
  • Who will oversee my medical care while I am participating in the trial?
  • What are my options if I am injured during the study?

You can discuss any questions you have with members of the research team and your regular healthcare provider at any time.

For more information about clinical research studies and a list of current trials, go to View the clinical trials available at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.

[ii] Sarah Cannon
[iii] Sarah Cannon
[v] National Cancer Institute