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CancerGuide: Clinical Trials and Experimental Treatments

Introductory Articles
What are Clinical Trials and Why Investigate Them?
In-Depth Guide
Other Articles
What are Clinical Trials and Why Investigate Them?

A clinical trial is a test of a new treatment in patients. Medicine is extremely conservative in nature, and it takes many years for a treatment to become generally available even after it has shown promising results in patients. As an example, the drug that saved my life, Interleukin-2, was not approved for use outside of clinical trials until 1992, more than seven years after the first dramatic responses were recorded in patients with advanced kidney cancer and melanoma. At the same time, with the biotechnology revolution, innovative, promising ideas for treatment are being developed at an ever increasing rate, so standard treatment can easily lag far behind the true state of the art.

Overall, fewer than 5% of cancer patients actually take part in a clinical trial. Some do not qualify, and for others, the standard treatments are best, but many other patients who could benefit from clinical trials are never given the chance. Furthermore, patients who are offered clinical trials are often only offered those trials that their doctor or hospital happens to be participating in. They are often not informed that there are many trials being conducted throughout the country, and that some are more far more promising than others.

These factors, the slowness of the clinical research and drug approval processes, the rapid advances in biological science, and the fact that most patients are not offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial, make investigating clinical trials a priority. But be aware that clinical trials vary tremendously in their promise, and selecting just any old clinical trial is an extremely poor idea. The key is to examine the prior results for the treatment in any proposed trial in patients with your kind of cancer, and then to consider this compared to the best standard treatment. It is also important to consider the reliability of the data. Has good results been confirmed by multiple trials, and were the trials of reasonable size, or has it been tried in few or no patients? How much of a shot in the dark you would be willing to take depends on your alternatives at the time. Because of the complexities of evaluating treatment, you should review your findings and conclusions with an open minded oncologist.

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This CancerGuide Page By Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Page Created: March 3, 2002, Last Updated: March 3, 2002