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Cancer Clinical Trials, Explained

Paula Fracasso, MD, PhD, deputy director of our Cancer Center and a board-certified medical oncologist, contributed this post.

Beakers imageCancer touches everyone. If you haven’t had it, the chances are high that a close family member or friend has – 1.5 million adults are diagnosed with cancer each year, and 40 percent of them will eventually die from their disease.

That’s why clinical trials evaluating new cancer treatments are so essential. But less than 5 percent of adults with cancer participate in trials.

Trials: The Good and the Bad

For some patients, a trial may cure their cancer. For others it may be the best hope for having more time with family and friends.

If you participate in a clinical trial, you’re a hero to us and to cancer patients. You’re willing to test a new drug that may not cure your cancer. The drug may cause unexpected side effects – or have no effect at all.

Every trial participant contributes to the future cure of cancer.

How Do Cancer Clinical Trials Work?

Cancer researchers compare current treatments with new ones to determine if the new treatment is effective and if its benefits outweigh the side effects.

Every clinical trial has a written protocol, which acts like a road map. The protocol describes what will be done and why each part is necessary. It also lists specific requirements for participating patients. These may include:

  • Medical history
  • Current health status
  • Type of cancer

Including similar patients in a trial increases our confidence that the outcome is due to the treatment instead of other factors. Throughout the trial, our doctors, nurses and research coordinators carefully monitor the patient for any problems.

Patient Protection

Clinical trials must comply with strict scientific and ethical principles. Not only are they regulated on the state, national and international levels, but every organization also has its own clinical trial rules.

If you’re deciding whether to join a trial, you’ll participate in a process called informed consent. This means you’ll read and sign a form that:

  • Is approved by several regulatory groups
  • Describes the trial’s purpose
  • Spells out the benefits and risks of participating
  • Gives the physician permission to provide the treatment and collect information about how your body reacts

The informed consent process continues throughout the trial. Researchers inform you of newly discovered benefits, risks or side effects.

Cancer Care and Clinical Trials at UVA

We don’t want any of our patients to need to leave the state to enroll in a trial. That’s why our new Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, which opened in April, has a dedicated space for clinical trials.

We’re one of 66 cancer centers with National Cancer Institute designation. NCI centers are national leaders in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment.

Interested in participating in one of the over 100 clinical trials at UVA? Learn more now.

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