Clinical Trials for Cancer Patients

By Ian Krop, MD, PhD

Clinical trials are scientific studies in which new treatments – drugs, diagnostic procedures, and other therapies – are tested in people to find out if they are safe and effective. Nearly all cancer drugs in use today were tested in clinical trials.

If you are a cancer patient, you can benefit from clinical trials on several levels. In addition to the chance that the trial will aid your own treatment, you can also help doctors develop better therapies for current and future patients.

Having a larger care team is another advantage because clinicians, researchers, research coordinators, research nurses, technicians, social workers, support staff, and other health-care professionals work together in planning your care. Studies show that this extra attention can enhance patient outcomes.

Elizabeth Cahn (left) was in a clinical trial for breast cancer, and Karen Schulte, NP, was her research nurse.
Elizabeth Cahn (left) was in a clinical trial for breast cancer, and Karen Schulte, NP, was her research nurse.

While new treatments being evaluated through clinical trials could potentially be better than standard treatments, there are no guarantees. That’s why the new drug is being tested. But, given improvements in technology and a better understanding of cancer at the molecular level, there has been gradual improvement, through clinical trials, in our ability to develop drugs that work more effectively and reduce toxicity.

Because of the sheer number of trials, and the unfamiliar terminology in which they are often described, it can sometimes be difficult for patients to determine which trial might be right for them. You can speak with your oncologist or view some common questions and answers about clinical trials.

Patients with blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma now have added opportunites to partipcate in clinical trials, nationwide. Learn more.

Watch a video to understand the risks and benefits of being in a clinical trial. See a list of clinical trials available at Dana-Farber. See a list of clinical trials available to cancer patients nationwide.