What is a Clinical Trial?

What are clinical trials and why are they important?

A clinical trial is an organized research study designed to investigate new methods of preventing, detecting, diagnosing, or treating an illness or disease, such as cancer. In some instances, clinical trials attempt to improve a patient’s quality of life. When studying cancer therapies, researchers generally try to determine whether a new method of treatment is superior to the standard (currently approved) treatment of the disease. Clinical trials are important tools for discovering new techniques to fight disease; for example, many of the advances in breast and colon cancer detection and treatment have resulted from clinical trials: screening mammography; the use of chemotherapy before and after breast cancer and following colon cancer surgery; the use of radiation after lumpectomy and after rectal surgery; and cancer treatment drugs such as tamoxifen, Herceptin, and oxaliplatin.

Despite the importance of clinical trials to both patients and researchers, a recent survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) shows that only 2% to 3% of adult patients with cancer participate in clinical trials. Those who do participate not only make a contribution to research and to future patients but also receive state-of-the-art care and access to therapies not available outside the trials.

For more information about clinical trials, please visit the NCI (National Cancer Institute) website at http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials