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Clinical Trials Risks and Benefits

What Should You Think About Before Participating in a Clinical Trial?


Updated February 17, 2013

How Can You Decide if a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer is Right for You?

With lung cancer, current treatments are not what we would hope them to be. Whereas the survival rate after a diagnosis of several other cancers has been improving, it has not changed much for lung cancer over the last few decades. Clinical trials are the key to finding new treatments that we hope will better treat lung cancer and replace the methods we currently have available.

Is a clinical trial right for you, though? First, it is important to understand what clinical trials are and what they are designed to do. Second, an understanding of the types and phases of clinical trials is important. Some trials are done to see if a treatment is safe. Others are done to see if the treatment is more effective than current treatments. Finally, a consideration of the risks and benefits of clinical trials and having questions to ask your oncologist can help you make the decision that is right for you.

Risks vs Benefits of Clinical Trials

Possible benefits

  • The study may give you access to treatments that are more effective than standard treatments.
  • You can contribute to medical research that may help someone else with cancer in the future.
  • The study may provide a chance for a cure or prolong life when other methods have failed.
  • The trial may give you access to methods of relieving cancer symptoms not otherwise available.
  • You may be given access to closer follow-ups and have your physical condition evaluated more frequently.
  • If it covers the cost of treatment, the trial could possibly benefit you financially.

Possible risks

  • The study may not directly benefit you in your cancer treatment.
  • The drug or treatment may cause side effects and, in rare cases, death.
  • The study may prevent you from receiving other treatments.
  • Even if the treatment has been effective for others, it may not be for you.
  • You may not get the new drug/treatment but a placebo or standard treatment instead. When standard treatment offers an advantage over a placebo, a placebo group is usually not used.

Questions To Ask About Clinical Trials

  • What type of clinical trial is this? Is it a treatment trial aimed at finding a cure for cancer or prolonging life or is it a supportive trial, one designed to improve quality of life? Why is it being done?
  • If the clinical trial is a treatment trial, what phase trial is it? Phase 1 clinical trials are designed to evaluate safety of a new medication, whereas phase 3 clinical trials are done to see if the drug/treatment is more effective than what is currently available.
  • What other treatment options are available?
  • Will participating in a clinical trial limit any of these other treatment options?
  • What will participating in the study mean for me? Will I have to travel?
  • Who will be in charge of my treatment and who should I call if I have any concerns?
  • What has been your experience with this drug/treatment in other patients? How many patients have you studied? Can you tell me what the results of the study have shown so far?
  • How long will the treatment last? If I am responding to the drug/treatment, can I continue it after the study is over?
  • How will the clinical trial affect my insurance coverage? Will I be responsible for any costs? Will I be reimbursed for participating in the study or will my medical costs be covered if I develop a side effect? What are the laws considering clinical trials and medical insurance coverage in your state? See Clinical Trials: State Laws Regarding Insurance Coverage.
  • Ask Yourself if you're willing to accept the possible risks involved? Will traveling or extra tests pose a hardship on you emotionally, physically or financially? Are your family and friends supportive of your choice to take part in a clinical trial?


National Cancer Institute. Deciding to Take Part in Clinical Trials. Updated 09/01/11. http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/learningabout/Taking-Part-in-Cancer-Treatment-Research-Studies/page8

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