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Clinical trials

Research studies can offer hope — for you and for people with cancer in the future.

Cancer research is among the most dynamic fields of scientific investigation, as the quest for more effective treatment continues. For example, as many as 400 new trial-ready drugs are tested clinically every year — though from among the thousands of new drugs that are developed, most fail in laboratory and pre-clinical testing. Every one of these drugs must pass a long and rigorous series of clinical trials in order to be proven safe, effective, and ready for broader use.

Joining a study

Everyone who participates in a clinical trial volunteers to do so. Many people feel empowered by enrolling — both because they hope to benefit from the newest advances in treatment, and because they believe they’re helping to develop new treatments that will benefit people in the future. Sometimes, clinical trials can provide hope when all other approaches have failed.

But it’s important to remember that with any trial, the outcome is unknown. Researchers can’t predict the risks and potential side effects of the treatment. There’s no way to know whether or not a new therapy will work for you even if it works for others in the group. And, if you participate in a randomized trial, it’s possible that you will receive only the standard therapy and not the standard therapy in addition to the new therapy. However, the standard therapy will always be the one that is the most widely used and that the medical community considers the best currently available for your diagnosis. And you will never receive a placebo — or inactive substance — instead of conventional drugs or treatment.

Whether you should join a clinical trial is a difficult decision, usually without clear-cut answers. If you find a trial that interests you, it is crucial to discuss it with your doctor, your family, and trusted friends. Also, you should contact both your insurance company and the organization running the trial to find out who will cover your expenses.

While many insurance companies won’t pay for experimental therapies, the sponsoring institution will often cover your treatment costs.

Finding clinical trials

Some clinical trials are sponsored by governmental organizations like the National Cancer Institute, and others are sponsored by pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. There are a number of Web-based sources of information:

  • At the American Cancer Society website,, you can use the EmergingMed matching service to find studies for which you’re eligible. The matching system chooses from a regularly updated list of all known government-funded clinical trials, as well as those funded by private pharmaceutical or biotechnical companies, and provides up-to-date contact information for each study. You can also access the matching system by calling 800-303-5691 toll-free.
  • The National Cancer Institute has a database of all active government-funded, and some privately funded trials at their clinical trials website:
  • Most research hospitals and individual drug companies have web listings of trials, so you can find out more about privately funded studies.