Is Joining a Clinical Study Right for You?

By the time the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug or medical procedure, scientists have researched it thoroughly and tested it rigorously. After it shows promising results in the lab, researchers then conduct clinical trials, which test its safety and effectiveness in humans. Clinical trials must recruit participants-both healthy individuals and those with serious diseases-to be successful.

Patients who participate in clinical trials receive the very best medical care and access to potential new treatments before they become widely available. When you take part in a clinical trial, you play an active role in your own health care and contribute to valuable medical research, which may help others in the future. Clinical trials help physicians find alternative ways to screen, diagnose, treat, or prevent cancer, or improve patients' quality of life.

You must qualify to participate in clinical trials. Clinical trial sponsors, such as the National Institutes of Health or pharmaceutical companies, establish specific criteria for each study, which might include age, gender, type of cancer, or cancer stage.

Every clinical trial has a published protocol that describes exactly what will happen during the study. The National Institutes of Health and the FDA strictly regulate and monitor clinical trials to protect patients' safety.

If you're interested in joining a clinical trial, start by talking to your oncologist or a patient navigator. Some cancer centers participate extensively in clinical trials and have entire departments dedicated to uncovering relevant trials and identifying potential patients.

There are also several websites dedicated to clinical trials. The National Institutes of Health's database currently has more than 98,000 open and complete trials for cancer and other diseases. The site provides a wealth of information about clinical trials.

National Cancer Center (NCI): The NCI has a searchable database of more than 8,000 cancer trials currently accepting participants and also offers patient educational material, including a 10-step guide for finding a cancer treatment trial.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program: The Veteran's Administration collaborates with the NIH and other organizations to identify trials specifically for veterans. (

Participating in a clinical trial is strictly voluntary. Before committing, learn as much as you can about the purpose of the study, the protocol, potential benefits, side effects, risks, and length of the study.

Remember, many of the medical advances you benefit from today were the results of yesterday's clinical trials.


Sources: "Understanding clinical trials." Web. 20 September 20 2007.

National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. "Are clinical studies for you?" Web. 27 August 2009.

National Cancer Center. "Clinical trials." Web.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program. "Volunteering for clinical trials." Web. 15 March 2010.