Should You Participate in a Cancer Clinical Trial?

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Dr. Anne Traynor explains the importance of clinical trials. Dr. Traynor is the Faculty Director of the Clinical Research Program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. An Associate Professor of Medicine, she specializes in the care of patients with lung cancer.


Madison, Wisconsin - Cancer affects us all—whether we have it, care about someone who does or worry about getting it.


Typically patients undergoing cancer treatment may learn about opportunities to participate in clinical trials, which are research studies that help doctors improve cancer treatments and minimize symptoms. Each study tries to answer questions to find better ways to prevent, diagnose or treat cancer and to improve a patient’s quality of life. These studies are the final step in developing new drugs and other means to fight cancer.



In the past, cancer clinical trials were sometimes seen as the last resort for people who had no other treatment choices. Today, many people with cancer receive their first treatment on a clinical trial. All cancer patients can benefit from learning about all their treatment options, which will likely include enrolling in clinical trials.



As more people participate in clinical trials, cancer researchers can more rapidly answer the critical questions that will lead to better treatments and better control of cancer symptoms. The fastest way to discover more effective cancer treatments, or ways to prevent cancer or control cancer symptoms, is to have more people participate in clinical trials. 


Types of Clinical Trials

  • Treatment trials test new anti-cancer treatments. New cancer medicines, new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy or new treatments such as anti-cancer vaccines are used in treatment trials. Most people in these trials do not receive a placebo for their treatment.

  • Prevention trials test new approaches, such as medicines, vitamins or other supplements that doctors believe may lower the risk of developing a certain type of cancer. These trials look for the best way to prevent cancer in people who have never had cancer or to prevent cancer from coming back if a person has already had it.

  • Screening trials test the best way to find very small, curable cancers that have not caused any symptoms.

  • Quality of life trials explore ways to improve comfort and to reduce symptoms for cancer patients.


Importance of Clinical Trials

Having people enroll in clinical trials is the only way we can improve cancer care. The following examples highlight the progress made in cancer care that resulted from patients enrolling in clinical trials:


  • In a common lymphoma subtype called diffuse large B cell lymphoma, clinical trials revealed the addition of rituximab to standard chemotherapy improved the treatment so much that now that a majority of newly-diagnosed patients are cured.

  • In breast cancer that measure less than three centimeters in diameter, an important clinical trial showed that women do not need extensive, often debilitating surgery to remove lymph nodes in the armpit. The results of this trial mean that fewer surgeries are necessary, and that the risk of swelling of the arm will be lower for women with breast cancer.

  • In colon cancer, clinical trials demonstrated the importance of detecting if a specific biologic abnormality is present inside the cancer cells. This new information, gained from patients enrolling in a clinical trial, helps doctors choose the most effective and least toxic medication to treat this cancer.

Enormous improvements in treating childhood cancers have come about as the direct result of clinical trials. In 2000, nearly 80 percent of children with cancer were alive five years after diagnosis, compared with only 55 percent in the mid-1970’s. 


Clinical Trials at the UW Carbone Cancer Center

The UW Carbone Cancer Center typically has over 200 clinical trials available for patients to enroll in. Please ask your doctor or nurse if you might benefit from participating in a clinical trial.


Please contact Cancer Connect, the Carbone Cancer Center’s patient and physician telephone resource, at (800) 622-8922 for more information about clinical trials. A complete listing of clinical trials at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, along with key questions to ask your physician, is available at: 



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Date Published: 04/14/2016

News tag(s):  researchcanceranne m traynor

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