What to Know About Clinical Trials for Lung Cancer

Clinical trials are studies that help researchers find new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat diseases. They are the primary way that scientists determine if new treatments are safe and effective. However, there are also risks, such as the potential to receive a therapy that doesn’t help you.

If you have lung cancer, participating in a clinical trial might allow you to receive an innovative therapy that isn’t yet available to the public. Sometimes, medicine offered through a clinical trial is a lung cancer patient’s best option for survival.

While there are both pros and cons to participating in a research study, people with lung cancer may want to consider it.

Lung scan

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What Is a Clinical Trial?

A clinical trial is a research study that tests how safe and effective a certain approach is at preventing, diagnosing, or treating a disease.

Some clinical trials test new drugs or treatments. Other studies compare existing treatments with new therapies, evaluate different doses of medicines, or examine combinations of treatments. Additionally, clinical trials may look at how to make a person feel better by improving quality of life.

There are different types of clinical trials for people in all stages and types of lung cancer.

How Many People Participate in Clinical Trials?

Though cancer patients can benefit from taking part in a clinical trial, studies show that less than 5% of adults with cancer enroll in one.

How Clinical Trials Work

Before a clinical trial can take place, laboratory research is done. These preclinical studies are often performed on animals or cell cultures.

If the lab studies show positive results, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can approve a clinical trial to begin.

Clinical trials are divided into four phases to test a treatment, with phase 4 taking place after the FDA has already approved the therapy. Phases 1–3 involve:

  • Phase 1: A phase 1 trial tests a new treatment on a small group of people to determine its safety, side effects, and dosage. Typically, a phase 1 trial involves 15–40 participants.
  • Phase 2: A phase 2 study involves more people, usually less than 100. The main goal of this phase is to find out if the treatment is effective. Scientists also look at safety and side effects.
  • Phase 3: In a phase 3 trial, researchers test different doses of the treatment and may combine it with other drugs. Scientists aim to learn more about safety and side effects. These studies usually include several hundred to thousands of volunteers.

Benefits of Clinical Trials

Some potential benefits of joining a clinical trial are:

  • Receiving a cutting-edge treatment that you couldn’t get access to otherwise
  • Getting high-quality medical, care with regular checkups
  • Taking a more active role in your health
  • Playing a part in helping scientists discover new therapies that could benefit patients in the future

Benefits for Lung Cancer Patients

Lung cancer patients, in particular, may benefit from clinical trials. That's because this type of cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited. Taking part in a trial may help some people with lung cancer obtain therapies that could improve their survival odds.


Some possible risks, or downsides, of joining a trial may include:

  • Receiving a therapy that’s not superior to standard treatment
  • Having to pay for treatments if your health insurance doesn’t cover the cost
  • Experiencing unwanted side effects
  • Not knowing if the treatment you take is completely effective
  • Having to travel long distances for medical appointments

Types of Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

There are different types of lung cancer clinical trials, and you should choose one based on your specific needs.

Interventional Trials

An interventional trial is a type of clinical trial in which patients are given specific drugs or therapies.

With an interventional cancer trial, you may be randomly assigned to a group that receives a different type of treatment than another group. For instance, people in the “control” group will take a standard drug, while those in the “experimental” group will receive a new cancer therapy.

Not all interventional trials randomly assign participants to groups. You should find out how the study will be conducted before you participate.

Stage 4 Clinical Trials

Stage 4 clinical trials are studies that include people with stage 4 cancer. Treatment options for advanced lung cancer are often limited, so a clinical trial might be especially beneficial if you have this stage of cancer.

Clinical Trials for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Some clinical trials are specifically designed for people with a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This is the most common type and may require different treatments than other kinds.

How to Find a Lung Cancer Clinical Trial

If you’re interested in joining a lung cancer clinical trial, talk to your healthcare provider first. They might be able to help you find studies that can benefit you the most.

Sometimes, local ads in a newspaper or on television will feature information about clinical trials.

Resources for Clinical Trials

The following online resources provide ways to learn more about lung cancer clinical trials:

Questions to Ask Before You Sign Up

You’ll probably have a lot of questions before signing up for a clinical trial. Here are some you might consider asking your healthcare provider:

  • What’s the purpose of the clinical trial?
  • What treatment will I receive?
  • Is there a chance I might not know the therapy I receive?
  • Is there another treatment option that could work better?
  • How long will the study go on?
  • What are the risks or side effects of the treatment I will receive?
  • Will I need additional tests or procedures?
  • How often will I need to be seen by a medical expert?
  • Will my insurance cover the cost of the therapy?
  • Who will be responsible for my medical care while I’m taking part in the trial?
  • Will I have access to this treatment after the clinical trial ends?

Patient Safety and Informed Consent

If you decide to participate in a clinical trial, you will be asked to provide written informed consent.

The consent form will cover a range of issues, including:

  • Possible risks involved
  • What types of tests you’ll need
  • How your identity will be protected
  • Who will pay for the cost of treatment
  • Your right to leave the study

Several different people and agencies are involved in overseeing the safety and procedures of clinical trials. For instance, institutional review boards ensure that people participating in clinical trials are protected and laws are adhered to.

Additionally, data safety monitoring boards observe the safety and effectiveness of treatments being tested. Government agencies like the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), FDA, and National Cancer Institute (NCI) also play an important role in helping to ensure clinical trial safety protocols are followed.

Deciding to Join a Clinical Trial

The decision to join a clinical trial for lung cancer is a personal one. It’s best to discuss the benefits and risks with your healthcare provider to decide if you are an appropriate candidate.

Researching Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

Online resources as well as any information your healthcare provider provides could help you learn more about lung cancer clinical trials. There are many ongoing trials, so it’s important to do your research to determine which ones will benefit you the most.

How to Find the Right Clinical Trial

Finding the right clinical trial for lung cancer might take some careful planning. You'll want to make sure you're eligible for the trial and that you can benefit from the treatment being studied. Knowing the details of the state of your condition can help you narrow down which clinical trial will help you the most.

Here is some information that's helpful to have on hand:

  • The type of lung cancer you have
  • The stage of cancer you have
  • Which treatments you have tried
  • Where the cancer has spread (if it has spread)

You should also think about what side effects or risks you're willing to tolerate if you take part in a trial.


Clinical trials for lung cancer are important in helping researchers identify new therapies. Participating in a study might give you the opportunity to try a therapy that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. However, there are also risks to consider when joining a research study. Your healthcare provider can help you determine if a clinical trial is right for you.

A Word From Verywell

Getting a lung cancer diagnosis can be scary. Often, this cancer is found when it’s already spread to other areas of the body. For lung cancer patients with few options, a clinical trial may allow them to receive a therapy that could improve survival. While clinical trials aren't a good fit for everyone, they are worth considering if you have lung cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there any new treatments for non-small cell lung cancer?

    Researchers are always testing new treatments for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). For example, targeted therapies and immunotherapies are two novel options being studied. The National Cancer Institute provides a list of ongoing clinical trials for NSCLC.

  • Are there any clinical trials for stage 4 lung cancer?

    Clinical trials are being conducted for people with all stages of lung cancer, including stage 4. You can search for lung cancer clinical trials at Clinicaltrials.gov.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. American Cancer Society. Protecting people in clinical trials.