Managing Treatments

6 Clinical Trial Myths Debunked

Learning the facts about clinical trials can help you decide if one may be right for you.

Clinical trials are a vital part of medical research and development, but they can be a scary prospect for many people. Much of the fear comes from misconceptions about how trials work and what role you’ll play as a patient. Learning to separate clinical trial myths from facts may help you make an informed decision about whether a trial is right for your care.

What Are Clinical Trials?

First, it helps to define clinical trials. They are research studies used to find ways to treat, diagnose or prevent cancer or its side effects. The most common studies people think of are those that test certain medications or treatment options. But they may also look at interventions, like walking or yoga, to see how they can improve symptoms.

Any medications, radiation, surgery or other treatments undergo extensive testing in a lab before they’re introduced to humans. Human clinical trials are separated into phases, which tell you how far along the treatment is in the research process. Early phases primarily study safety and dosing, while later phases focus on treatment efficacy.

Clinical trials are necessary for getting new treatments to market, yet many people are hesitant about joining a trial. Let’s look at some common clinical trial myths.

1. Myth: You Will Be Given a Placebo

Cancer clinical trials never deny you access to treatment, so you won’t be given a placebo or sugar pill. You may receive the standard therapy for your particular disease, or you may receive the treatment being investigated.

During a process called informed consent, you will be told about the possible treatments and how the study is set up before you agree to a trial.

2. Myth: You’ll Be Treated like a Lab Rat

Many people worry about the safety of clinical trials, or think that they’ll just be a test subject. But clinical trials are held to high standards for safety and ethics. Your protections start with informed consent and recruitment materials, where you are told the study process, risks, benefits and other information to ensure you fully understand what happens. Throughout the study, review boards ensure that your rights and safety are protected.

3. Myth: I Can’t Quit Once the Trial Starts

Even after going through the informed consent process, you can back out of a trial at any time.

4. Myth: I Can’t Afford A Clinical Trial

Throughout a clinical trial, you still undergo much of your routine medical care, which is covered by your insurance. Study drugs, procedures, equipment and other needs related directly to the treatment being researched are usually provided for free as part of your participation.

5. Myth: Clinical Trials Are a Last Resort

People join a clinical trial for many reasons. Some join to help people who may receive the same diagnosis in the future. Others enroll to access experimental therapies because other treatments haven’t worked.

However, not all trials are a last resort. Many of them recruit healthy people, people at risk of developing cancer (to test screening and early detection methods) or people newly diagnosed. Each trial has specific criteria for participants.

6. Myth: If the Drug Works, I’ll Lose Access to It

There’s also a fear that you may find a great treatment but it’s not yet approved by the FDA. So when the trial ends, what happens? Each trial is different, but it may be possible for you to continue taking an effective treatment even after the formal study period has ended.

Research published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology finds that less than 5 percent of adults with cancer participate in clinical trials. Yet, this research is vital to bringing newer, safer, more effective treatments to market. You can find trials through your cancer center or by asking your doctor for more information.

UVA Cancer Center offers a variety of clinical trials for people with cancer, or those at risk of developing it.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney