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Three Questions to Ask Your Oncologist About Clinical Trials

May 17, 2021

When it comes to cancer, advancements in clinical trials and research are our greatest hopes for eliminating the disease. Discoveries like new drug therapies or combinations of drugs, innovations in radiation therapy, and better screening and diagnosing methods come from clinical trials – research studies that examine the safety and effectiveness of different cancer treatments and reveal insights into the disease and ways to deliver better care.

Breakthroughs that advance prevention and treatment of cancer are made possible by the courageous patients who volunteer to participate in clinical trials. Yet less than 5% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Clinical trials follow strict compliance with federal, state, and local regulatory requirements. Each patient is carefully evaluated to ensure the patient is a strong fit for a particular clinical trial. Here are three questions to ask your oncologist about participating in a clinical trial.

What types of clinical trials are available?

Patients are encouraged to play an active role in their cancer care. This includes being informed of all treatment options available. Ask your oncologist about clinical trial availability. At any given time, there are hundreds of active clinical trials at various stages of evaluation. For example, prevention trials focus on preventing cancer or the recurrence of cancer, and might focus on diet and nutrition or the use of different medications or vitamins to determine if risk of developing cancer is lowered. Similarly, treatment trials are designed to answer questions about new treatments, vaccines, therapies, or surgical procedures.

What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?

The benefits and risks of clinical trials vary by trial. And, just as every patient experiences symptoms and side effects differently, this is true for clinical trial participants as well. Some of the benefits of participating in a clinical trial include treatment that may be more effective than other available treatment options and access to treatments often not available to the public. Patients enrolled in clinical trials also receive the same standard of treatment and care as those not participating in trials. While there are inherent risks with participating in research, the benefits often outweigh them. For example, in some cases, the risks include side effects that are not dissimilar from those experienced with traditional forms of treatment like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Am I eligible for a clinical trial?

Not all patients are eligible for clinical trials, even when it seems like you may be a good fit. Factors considered before approving a cancer patient for a clinical trial depend on such criteria as age and sex, cancer type, stage of cancer, previous treatments, and medical history. If you’re interested in a trial but not eligible for trials currently available, discuss your interest in participating with your oncologist. New clinical trials open regularly.

These three questions are the beginning of open and ongoing discussions about your cancer care with your physician. The American Cancer Society recommends evaluating all treatment options before deciding to participate in a clinical trial, and taking into consideration travel, time, medical coverage, and any potential costs, among others.

Texas Oncology has helped develop more than 100 FDA-approved cancer therapies through research and clinical trials. I’m proud to work with our patients and oncology care teams who, together, are helping others by supporting medical research.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.