Does the term “clinical trial” bring to mind risky treatments being tested on seriously ill patients as a last resort? If so, that image can’t be more wrong.
Rather, a clinical trial is a treatment option for many patients in which they receive the gold standard of care for their condition—whether mild or serious—or the chance to have access to the latest treatment not yet available to the public. Even healthy people can take part in a clinical trial and contribute to medical research that may help others in the future.
Some trials test new kinds of surgery or radiation therapy. Others help doctors find new ways to prevent illness through certain medicines, vitamins or lifestyle changes. Some research studies help discover new diagnostic techniques or determine how people with chronic illness can improve their quality of life.
When you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you take an active role in improving your health. You’ll receive the finest care and most effective treatment known from leading institutions—in fact, because of this benefit, some patients make a trial their first treatment choice. The research staff will meet with you regularly to monitor your health and safety. You’ll continue to work with your primary healthcare provider, who will make sure any research medication doesn’t interfere with your other medicines. And you can stop participating at any time.
But clinical trials aren’t for everyone. Talk at length with your doctor to determine whether a trial is right for you. Learn as much about the trial as possible and check your health plan to find out whether you are expected to pay out-of-pocket costs. (Medicare and many insurers cover the cost of routine care in qualified clinical trials.)
You may suffer side effects or a bad reaction to the treatment you’re receiving; however, the government regulates most clinical trials to ensure safeguards are in place. For example, participants can’t be exposed to experimental drugs with unreasonable risks. You also may have to make many trips to the study site, be hospitalized or undergo complicated medical dosages. Remember, too, that the experimental treatment you receive doesn’t guarantee effectiveness.
Government agencies, physicians, healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical companies sponsor trials. They can take place at hospitals, universities, doctors’ offices and community clinics. A great place to start your search for a clinical trial is at the government Web site www.ClinicalTrials.gov. You can also visit Web sites that provide information on trials for certain illnesses, such as www.CancerTrialsHelp.org.