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Finding a Clinical Trial That is Right for You

Dr. Anne Schott, University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center's Associate Director of Clinical Research helps us understand clinical trials, the different types and how they move from the lab into treatment protocols.

contributed by Susan L. Daron, R.N., BSN, OCN; and Kim Zapor, R.N., BSN, OCN, CBCN, Cancer AnswerLine

Enrolling in a clinical trial is a treatment option that can be beneficial for both the patient and others who can benefit from the findings. Almost all current treatments started out being tested in clinical trials. Medicine would not advance without the use of trials and people to participate in them.

Those who volunteer have a unique opportunity to test a new therapy, so they need to consider the risks and benefits before enrolling. The University of Michigan offers U-M Health Research, a free and secure tool for healthy volunteers or someone with an existing medical condition looking for health research studies at the University of Michigan. The following information applies to anyone, anywhere in the United States, who has thought about enrolling in a clinical trial. It can help you decide if a clinical trial is an option to consider -- and, if it is how to find the trial that is right for you.

Is this clinical trial an option for me?

Each clinical trial has a specific list of traits that all patients must have to participate in the study. These guidelines, called eligibility criteria, include factors such as the type and stage of cancer, prior cancer treatment, age and overall health of the participant. In addition, each trial has exclusion criteria which list any medical conditions, medicines, or other diagnosis that would not allow trial participation.

Be sure to let your doctor know you're interested in volunteering for a clinical trial. Your doctor may have one (or more) studies underway you may be eligible for. If not, oncologists usually are familiar with research at other cancer centers. Oftentimes they can either refer you, or contact the investigator on your behalf about participation.

How do I know what the trial is testing?

Clinical trials are divided into four separate phases:

  • The first phase is phase I which is small (usually under 30 participants) and is used to determine if the treatment is safe.
  • The second phase, phase II uses a larger population (under 100 participants) to determine if the treatment is effective.
  • Phase III involves an even larger number of participants (in the thousands) to compare the new treatment to the current treatment.
  • The last phase, phase IV, can involve several thousand participants and examines the long-term safety of the new treatment.

What else should I know?

It is important to understand the risks and benefits of the trial as well as the costs involved. Some people assume that trials will be free but that is not always the case. Make sure to check with the study coordinator or principal investigator beforehand. The risks and benefits of the trial are listed on the study protocol. This is a written document given to all participants or potential participants and explains what will happen to them in the trial and who to contact if they have questions or problems. It also explains your rights as a trial participant.

Lastly, only a doctor can determine if a patient will be a good fit for a trial so make sure to contact your doctor before agreeing to enroll in a trial.

Volunteering for a clinical trial is a contribution to the future of medicine that only you can make. You can learn more from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Introduction to Clinical Trials webpages.

National Clinical Trials Search Engines

Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

Read about the experiences of those who have participated in clinical trials:

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