What are clinical trials? And should I consider joining one?

Clinical trials are research studies that help doctors find new treatments for people with different diseases. A clinical trial involves human volunteers and is designed to answer specific health questions. They are the final step in a research process that begins in a lab.

Trials are available for all stages of cancer as well as for people who do not have cancer.

Clinical trials supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) take place across the United States and Canada as well as around the world.

The National Cancer Act of 1937 was the first time Congress appropriated funds for a non-communicable disease; the act supported cancer research and established the NCI.

In December 1969, activists led by Mary Lasker published a full-page advertisement in The New York Times: “Mr. Nixon: You Can Cure Cancer.” The copy read, “Dr. Sidney Farber, Past President of the American Cancer Society, believes: ‘We are so close to a cure for cancer. We lack only the will and the kind of money and comprehensive planning that went into putting a man on the moon’.”

Subsequently, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971. The law earmarked $1.5 million for cancer research over a three-year period and designated the fight against cancer a national priority.

Dr. Farber is known as the father of modern chemotherapy. However almost 50 years later, his prophecy remains unfulfilled, a testament to technological optimism.

breast cancer stamp


In 1997, Congress passed The Stamp Out Breast Cancer Act, the country’s first fund-raising stamp. The stamp costs more than the standard first-class postage for mailing a letter, with the surcharge going to breast cancer research.

You can contribute to cancer research by purchasing the Breast Cancer Research Stamp at USPS.com or your local post office.

The 2015 reauthorization of the Stamp-Out Breast Cancer Act (P.L. 110-150) requires NIH to submit an annual report on how the funds received from stamp sales are used.

During clinical trial phases 1 and 2, researchers determine the safety and optimal dose of a new treatment as well as its side effects. At these stages, researchers determine if a treatment has some benefit, such as slowing tumor growth. In phase 3, researchers compare the new treatment with the current standard therapy.

Prevention clinical trials are designed for people who do not currently have cancer, in order to learn how changes — such as exercise or diet — might contribute to cancer prevention. Prevention trials may also investigate how a drug or vitamin might contribute to cancer prevention.

For example, the University of Arizona is investigating how metformin might reduce the risk of cancer. The study will evaluate whether metformin can minimize characteristics that have been associated with increased breast cancer risk. (This is a phase 2 trial.)

If you participate in a clinical trial for patients, you will receive either the current standard of care (the most effective known treatment available) or an experimental treatment. It is possible that the new treatment may not be better than the current standard of care; but it’s also possible that it might be.

For example, the University of Florida is investigating the effects of radiation on the heart function on left-sided breast cancer patients by the use of MRI testing.

There are currently more than 1,500 clinical trials for breast cancer ongoing in the United States.

Questions to ask if you’re considering joining a clinical trial.

Searchable databases for clinical trials include:


Read the series

Leave a Reply