Patients with childhood acute leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and testicular cancer all have something in common: Cures for their cancers were developed through clinical trials.
Clinical trials can focus on diagnosis, screening and prevention. However, most of us think of clinical trials in the context of potential new treatments. Patients who exhaust standard treatments in surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy often explore participation in clinical trials, where they can gain access to promising new treatments not generally available elsewhere.
Trials may involve new drugs, new combinations of drugs, new radiation therapy techniques or new surgeries. The requirements – called study protocols – are different for each trial – defined by limitations, such as the type of cancer and a patient’s sex, age or activity level.
All trials are regulated by national and international policies aimed at protecting the patients’ safety and rights.
These research programs can be found at community hospitals and regional cancer centers, as well as at academic medical centers. There are some programs, such as the Southeast Cancer Control Consortium, that help coordinate the research.
A research team at the cancer center or hospital participating in the trial manages each patient. It usually starts with an “informed consent,” telling the would-be participants what the requirements, possible side effects and benefits are. All participants must volunteer to participate, because it is research and the outcome cannot be guaranteed.
What’s the Benefit?
“Patients who participate in cancer clinical trials may benefit personally,” says McLeod Oncologist Dr. Michael Pavy. “Beyond that, they are contributing to our knowledge about cancer and helping future patients through the development of improved cancer treatments.”
Although there’s no hard and fast rule, in general the patient’s health insurance covers costs related to standard or routine cancer care. Costs related to the clinical trial are usually paid by the sponsoring institution. However, in some states, insurers are not required to pay for routine cancer care if a person is participating in a clinical trial. It is best to check with your insurer before committing to a clinical trial.
Have a question? Ask a cancer specialist.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, Southeast Cancer Control Consortium