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Considering Your Options: Cancer Clinical Trials

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When making decisions about the type of cancer treatment you will get, it's important to know all of your options. One of those options may be a cancer clinical trial. Clinical trials are human research studies designed to find out if a promising new treatment is better than the best current treatment in use.

Clinical trials are the key to finding better ways to treat cancer.  They may not only increase survival rates, but may also improve quality of life for people with cancer. Such trials have led to advances in the treatment of many types of cancer. Unfortunately, very few people take part in clinical trials. This, in large part, is due to negative publicity and overall misunderstanding about clinical trials. Sometimes patients don't even know that clinical trials are a treatment option.

Are clinical trials safe?

There are many safeguards built in to protect patients who take part in clinical trials. For example, before a new treatment moves to the human clinical trials phase, the research must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every hospital or cancer center offering a clinical trial must have an Institutional Review Board (IRB), which is a panel of doctors, patients and community members who look for any risk or bias there may be before approving a clinical trial. Study participants are also required to complete an Informed consent agreement, which explains what the study will be like (called the study protocol) as well as the possible risks and side effects of the treatment. An even greater protection is that patients are able to leave a trial at any time and for any reason.

It's important to remember that clinical trials are experimental and, like any treatment, they involve some level of risk. Also, clinical trials are not right for everyone, and they're not available for all types of cancer.

Will my insurance cover a clinical trial?

Many states have laws about insurance coverage for research studies. The types of studies and exact coverage required by these laws vary from state to state--some cover all clinical trials, while others may cover only certain phases of clinical trials. The new health care law states that insurers cannot drop or limit coverage because you choose to take part in a clinical trial that treats cancer or other life-threatening diseases.

Some trials are funded by large drug companies that cover most of the cost, making them cost less than standard care. If you're looking at clinical trials, be sure to talk to your insurance provider and somone involved with the study before you decide to take part, so you know what you may have to pay for.

How do I find a clinical trial?

To find out about clinical trials that might be right for you, the best place to start is your oncologist. If he/she does not know of a clinical trial, there are many resources available. The Cancer Information Service (1- 800-422-6237) is a program supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It can give you the names and numbers of clinical trial centers in your area. You can also get listings from the NCI through their website, www.nci.nih.gov. Their site also has a lot of information on clinical trials, is designed to help you in the decision-making process, and includes a list of questions you should ask before signing up for a trial. 

Of course, you can always find clinical trials information through the American Cancer Society (ACS) Clinical Trials Matching Service. The ACS works with eviti, Inc. to provide a free, confidential, and reliable matching and referral service for people looking for clinical trials. The clinical trials information provided by ACS is not biased in any way. It's updated every day, as is the contact information that allows patients to get in touch with the doctors and nurses at cancer centers running eachof the studies. Call 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org to learn more about how we can help you look for clinical trials that may be of interest to you.

The bottom line about clinical trials, or any treatment option, is that you need to begin your cancer treatment with as much knowledge as possible. Ask questions; do your own research; make your own phone calls. You can be an active participant in deciding what treatment is best for you.

Para solicitar información en español, llame al 1-800-227-2345. Un especialista en información sobre el cáncer le asistirá en español.

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