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What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial is a piece of research that studies new ways of preventing, screening and treating physical problems. All the standard medical treatments that we use today have been tested in clinical trials.
The aim of clinical trials for cancer treatments is to find new and better treatments and to help to improve outcomes in cancer patients.
Clinical trials look at how cancer is diagnosed and treated. They look at the drugs used, how those drugs affect people and how they affect their cancer. Some clinical trials use new drugs or treatments to treat the cancer.
Some clinical trials look at what happens when existing drugs or treatments are used in new combinations. Others don’t use drugs or treatments at all, but focus on the quality of life of someone in cancer treatment, or the scans and tests used to find more information about their cancer.
For more information on clinical trials, see our factsheet Cancer and Clinical Trials.
Why would I want to take part?
It can be difficult to decide whether or not to take part in a clinical trial. Usually there are pros and cons. Before you start your treatment, you will be asked to read a detailed patient information sheet. If you have any questions about the benefits and any possible disadvantages, talk to your doctor.
Remember, you can withdraw from a clinical trial at any time. If the doctor or nurse feels that the trial benefits you or your cancer long term, they will discuss this with you and make it clear – but the choice is yours. If you decide you don’t want to be part of the trial any more, you will be offered the standard treatment instead.
Making a decision
It can be hard to make a decision about whether or not to take part in a clinical trial. Here are some things to think about:
- The trial treatment might be better than the standard treatment.
- Your doctor may find out more about your cancer due to extra tests only available on clinical trials.
- You may be helping to improve cancer treatment for future patients.
- Your clinical trial team will organise all your hospital appointments as the trial recommends.
- You will be closely monitored by a team of doctors and trial nurses.
- The trial treatment may be as good as the standard treatment but it might not be better.
- You might have some side effects after taking the trial treatment.
- You might have to make more visits to the hospital than patients who are on the standard treatment.
- If you are on a randomised trial using a new drug you may still only receive the standard treatment.
Not all trials are suitable for all patients with a particular type of cancer. Trials often need patients who are similar in ways including: age, gender, cancer type, stage of cancer, previous treatments and other medical conditions. For this reason, trials have very strict rules. This means that some people can be included in the trial but some are not suitable and so will not be able to take part.
Giving consent means that you understand the trial and agree to take part. You cannot be part of a clinical trial if you have not given your permission. If you want to take part you will be asked to read a consent form.
The consent form explains:
- Why the trial is being run
- What it hopes to achieve
- What the possible side effects and risks are
- Why you have been invited to take part
It is important that you understand everything about the trial before you agree to take part. This is called informed consent. If you want to take part you will fill in and sign the consent form. You can change your mind about taking part, even if you have signed the consent form or started your trial treatment.
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