What are clinical trials, and why are they important?
Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Each study answers scientific questions and tries to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose, or treat cancers. People who take part in cancer clinical trials have an opportunity to contribute to knowledge of, and progress against, cancer. They also receive up-to-date care from experts.
What are the types of clinical trials?
There are several types of clinical trials:
- Prevention trials test new approaches, such as medications, vitamins, or other supplements, that doctors believe may lower the risk of developing a certain type of cancer. Most prevention trials are conducted with healthy people who have not had cancer, but may have a high risk of developing cancer. Some trials are conducted with people who have had cancer and want to prevent return of their cancer, or reduce the chance of developing a new type of cancer.
- Screening trials study ways to detect cancer earlier. They are often conducted to determine whether finding cancer before it causes symptoms decreases the chance of dying from the disease. These trials involve people who do not have any symptoms of cancer.
- Diagnostic trials study tests or procedures that could be used to identify cancer more accurately. Diagnostic trials usually include people who have signs or symptoms of cancer.
- Treatment trials are conducted with people who have cancer. They are designed to answer specific questions about, and evaluate the effectiveness of a new treatment or a new way of using a standard treatment. These trials test many types of treatments, such as new drugs, vaccines, new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy, or new combinations of treatments.
- Quality-of-Life (also called supportive care) trials explore ways to improve the comfort and quality of life of cancer patients and cancer survivors. These trials may study ways to help people who are experiencing nausea, vomiting, sleep disorders, depression, or other effects from cancer or its treatment.
- Genetics studies are sometimes part of another cancer clinical trial. The genetics component of the trial may focus on how genetic makeup can affect detection, diagnosis, or response to cancer treatment.
- Population and family-based genetic research studies differ from traditional cancer clinical trials. In these studies, researchers look at tissue or blood samples, generally from families or large groups of people, to find genetic changes that are associated with cancer. People who participate in genetics studies may or may not have cancer, depending on the study. The goal of these studies is to help understand the role of genes in the development of cancer.