What are clinical trials?

A clinical trial is a research study that tests a treatment or medical device to see if it works and is safe. Researchers use clinical trials to answer questions about treatments they want to study, such as:

  • Does a new treatment work better than a current treatment?
  • Does a treatment work equally well for different people?
  • Does a treatment cause too many side effects, or are they too severe?

Researchers rely on volunteers to join clinical trials – without volunteers, researchers can’t make new treatments.

How have clinical trials added to cancer care?

Cancer care is better today because of what researchers have learned using clinical trials. In fact, almost all of today’s most promising cancer treatments were first proven safe and effective in clinical trials.

Thanks to clinical trials, many people today are living longer because of treatments that were not available just a few years ago.

What’s it like to join a clinical trial?

During a clinical trial, study staff give treatments to volunteers according to a research plan. Your health is closely monitored by the study staff, which includes doctors and nurses. And most of your care will be free. 

You will be able to get full information about a clinical trial before you decide to join and you can leave a clinical trial at any time.

What are the risks and benefits to joining a clinical trial?

As with all medical treatments, clinical trials have risks and benefits for patients. 

Risks include unknown side effects of the treatment being investigated and the treatment might not work. 

Benefits of participating include getting the most-cutting edge treatments, such as immunotherapies, which trigger your own immune system to attack cancer in your body. For patients with rare or hard-to-treat cancers, or when usual treatments no longer work, joining a clinical trial may make a difference in how your cancer responds.  

Clinical trials are available for people with all stages and kinds of cancer. When you take part in a clinical trial, you add to our knowledge about cancer and help improve cancer care for generations to come—your children and your children’s children.