Managing Treatments, Research

What Are Clinical Trials, and Where Can You Find Them?

When you take a medication for an ailment as common as a headache or for a serious disease like cancer, the medication you’re taking has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to get FDA approval, pharmaceutical companies conduct research studies, or clinical trials, to show the safety and effectiveness of the medication. Before humans can participate in a trial, the medication undergoes extensive research in laboratories. Once approved, medications in clinical trials offer patients an alternative to the traditional therapies used for their condition or can be used in addition to traditional therapies.

What are clinical trials?

The goal of a cancer clinical trial is to identify new and improved ways to treat, prevent and/or diagnose cancer. Some clinical trials, called supportive care trials, are designed to improve the quality of life of patients by helping them to better cope with nutritional problems, depression or other health problems. Other trials, called treatment trials, seek to explore a new treatment or new way of using existing treatment, such as new drugs, vaccines, approaches to surgery, radiation therapy or a combination of treatments. Clinical trials vary in the number of participants, and can be done at a university clinical setting like UVA Cancer Center, at an independent research center or at individual medical offices.

Why participate in a trial?

There are a couple reasons you may want to participate. The first is that you might get a medication or new treatment not yet available to the public, and it might be more helpful in treating your cancer or other medical issue than the currently available drugs. Some people also like participating because it’s a way to help the next generation. Without people to help determine if the treatments work and are safe, new medications can’t be approved to help future patients.

What you need to know

In cancer treatment trials, patients will receive treatment for their cancer. No one gets a placebo (sugar pill) instead of necessary treatment. In most cancer treatment trials, patients will receive either the most accepted treatment for their cancer OR a new treatment that doctors hope will be better. Every clinical trial has a protocol, which tells you the plan of what will be done during the study and why each part of the study is necessary. To qualify and enroll in a trial, you have to meet specific criteria, depending on the guidelines for the study.

How to find a clinical trial

Fortunately, it’s easy to search for a clinical trial, and there are several websites that can pinpoint possibilities within minutes.

  • Ask Your Doctor
    Your treating physician may know of current trials for your type of cancer or other medical problem, whether the trial is local or further afield.
  • UVA Cancer Center Clinical Trial Site
    One of the benefits of getting treatment at a place like the University of Virginia Cancer Center is its National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, and that it gets more than $75 million in research funding yearly. Some of this funding is used to conduct these trials. Here, you can see a list of current oncology studies at UVA Cancer Center.
  • The National Cancer Institute
    The NCI lists cancer studies around the country that you may be eligible to participate in. It’s easy to search online, and you can narrow the search by cancer type, study location, patient age, intervention type, keywords, trial phase and other criteria.
  • Clinical Trial Website
    The U.S. Government has a clinical trial website where patients and family members can search for trials. You can search using terms like “cancer” and your location, or any keyword that applies. The website has helpful search tips to help you find what you’re looking for more easily. The site lists more than 200,000 trials in all 50 states and more than 190 countries.

Why UVA for clinical trials?

UVA Cancer Center has 180 cancer researchers from 22 academic fields organized around five programs. UVA researchers receive $75 million in funding for research each year. Researchers at the University of Virginia work together to find new ways to improve medical care. Volunteers in research studies—people just like you—are a critical link in making these discoveries possible.

If you have questions about how clinical trials work, ask your doctor or reach out to UVA Cancer Center’s clinical trial specialist, Leticia Murray, at 434.243.6303.

Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Deborah Abrams Kaplan