Riverview column: Clinical trial may be option for patients diagnosed with cancer

12:09 PM, Jun. 28, 2013  |  Comments
Diane Maciejewski
Diane Maciejewski
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A clinical trial is a research study designed to help find better ways to prevent, treat or diagnose diseases such as cancer.

A cancer clinical trial may test new treatments, new methods of prevention, detection or diagnosis, or evaluate and improve the quality of life for cancer patients. Clinical trials are conducted in "phases."

? Phase I. Tests an experimental treatment for the first time to evaluate safety and side effects.

? Phase II. Experimental treatment is tested for effectiveness and safety.

? Phase III. Experimental drug or treatment is tested for effectiveness, side effects and comparison with other treatments.

Current treatments for cancer are a result of information learned through past clinical trials. People treated for cancer today are living longer because of progress that has been made through clinical trials.

All clinical trials have criteria which define patients who are able to participate based on factors such as age, gender, type and stage of disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions. It is important that the patients in the trial be as alike as possible. This helps ensure that the results are due to the treatment being studied rather than other factors. These criteria also help ensure patient safety, as other health problems besides cancer may be made worse by the treatments used in a study.

Typically, there are about 20 to 25 clinical trials available at UW Cancer Center Riverview for a variety of cancer diagnoses. When a possible participant is identified, the physician will provide the patient with information about the trial, including possible risks and benefits. The patient will be given an informed consent document with detailed information regarding the clinical trial, and will be encouraged to ask questions.

The patient has the right to participate or decline a clinical trial. If the patient decides to take part, the informed consent is signed prior to the start of treatment. Even once the consent form has been signed, the patient maintains the right to leave the study at any time. Study staff continue to inform the patient of new information as it becomes available during the study.

Patients in a clinical trial might benefit by being the first to receive a new medicine that is only available to patients enrolled in the trial. A possible risk is that the new treatment may not help more than the standard treatment. There is also a risk of side effects from the treatment given in a clinical trial. Patients are monitored closely, and medicines will be given to help control side effects.

For patients faced with a diagnosis of cancer, a clinical trial may be an option. The choice of whether to participate in a clinical trial is something that the patient, the patient's loved ones, and the patient's doctors and nurses can decide together. As with any treatment option, a clinical trial has possible benefits as well as risks. Patients considering a clinical trial are encouraged to discuss these with their doctor.

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