List of Lung Cancer Clinical Trials and What They Mean for You

Lung cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in the United States. There are multiple types of lung cancer, most of which fall into two main categories: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) which accounts for 85% of all cases, and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which accounts for 15% of all cases.

Clinical trials are research studies that help researchers test the effectiveness and safety of newly developed lung cancer prevention, screening, and treatment approaches. Though lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., lung cancer deaths have steadily declined in recent years as research around new treatment options becomes available.

This article explores the purpose of lung cancer clinical trials, the phases and types, and how to find and enroll in a lung cancer clinical trial.

This woman with lung cancer did her own research to find a clinical trial to fight the diseaseng Cancer Did Her Own Research to Find a Clinical Trial to Fight the Disease

Purpose of Lung Cancer Clinical Trials 

Lung cancer clinical trials are critical for progress in fighting lung cancer. Clinical trials allow researchers and healthcare providers to test new ways to:

  • Prevent lung cancer
  • Screen for and diagnose cancer
  • Treat cancer
  • Manage cancer symptoms and treatment-related side effects

Through clinical trials, researchers learn if new treatments are safe and effective and if they work better than current standard treatments. Clinical trials also identify new ways to prevent and detect lung cancer and improve individuals' quality of life. Every drug available as a current lung cancer treatment has been tested in clinical trials before approval for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

People who volunteer for clinical trials are among the first to try new treatments before they become available to the general public. These people help healthcare providers, and researchers make lifesaving advancements in lung cancer treatment and care.

List of Databases

The first step in finding a clinical trial is talking with your healthcare provider. They can discuss whether it's a good option given your specific type of lung cancer. Clinical trial databases allow you to search for privately and publicly funded trials seeking participants.

Lung cancer clinical trial databases include:

Phases and Types of Clinical Trials

Clinical trials investigate every aspect of lung cancer care, including:

  • Prevention trials explore new ways to prevent lung cancer from developing in people who have never had the disease or recurring (returning) in those who have. 
  • Screening trials develop and test new ways to detect lung cancer. 
  • Diagnostic trials investigate lab tests and imaging scans to diagnose lung cancer. 
  • Treatment trials test new drugs (e.g., chemotherapy regimens), surgical procedures, immunotherapies, radiotherapies, and other treatment approaches. 
  • Behavioral trials evaluate ways to encourage behavioral changes to improve people's health. 
  • Quality of life trials explore and measure ways to improve the quality of life of people with lung cancer. 

Clinical trials are conducted in a series of phases. Each phase helps researchers learn more about the treatment to ensure it is effective and safe.

  • Phase 1: Researchers test a treatment on a small group of people (20 to 80) to identify side effects, determine the dosage, and learn about the drug's safety. 
  • Phase 2: The treatment is tested on a larger group of people (100 to 300) to further study its safety and effectiveness.
  • Phase 3: The treatment is given to many people to compare its safety and effectiveness against existing lung cancer treatments. 
  • Phase 4: Once the FDA approves the treatment, researchers will continue to track its safety and effectiveness.

Contact Former Participants to Learn Their Experiences 

To learn more about a clinical trial before you enroll, you may want to connect with participants from previous phases to learn about their experiences. Contact the clinical trial coordinator to ask them about connecting with former participants.

You can also join a mentorship program, such as the Cancer Hope Network, and ask to be matched with a lung cancer survivor who has been through a clinical trial and can share their experiences with you. 

How to Enroll

Once you’ve found a clinical trial you’d like to participate in, it’s time to apply. The first step is to contact research team members, such as the principal investigator or study coordinator. Contact information is usually in the description of the study.

You’ll meet the research team for a screening appointment to see if you qualify for the study. They will provide details about the study — how long it will take, what you can expect, and the potential risks and benefits of participating.

Let your healthcare provider know if you plan to apply for a clinical study. They may want to talk to the research team to ensure the study is right for you and coordinate your care while participating in the trial.

If you qualify and want to enroll in the study, you will sign a consent form reiterating the trial's details. All clinical trial participants have the right to leave the study at any time.

Clinical Trial Drawbacks

Possible disadvantages to participating in a clinical trial include:


  • Spending more time and energy traveling to extra medical appointments
  • Spending money on tests and/or medications that are not covered by insurance
  • Side effects from the treatment may impact your quality of life 
  • The treatment may not work 
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in many clinical trials


Future Treatment Possibilities From Clinical Trials

Clinical trials help scientists make tremendous strides in diagnosing and treating lung cancer. Research shows that novel (new) treatments from clinical trials have decreased mortality rates and helped people with cancer live longer.

Researchers are currently conducting many clinical trials to make further advancements in the way we detect, diagnose and treat lung cancer, including:

  • Machine learning to predict patient outcomes
  • Biomarkers in blood and sputum (mucus) to detect lung cancer early
  • Immunotherapies that work with the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer
  • Targeted therapies that kill certain cancer cells without harming healthy cells

Summary

Clinical trials are essential for advancing lung cancer screening, prevention, treatments, and individual care. These trials allow people living with lung cancer to be among the first to try a treatment that may help improve their outcomes.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you’d like to participate in a clinical trial. They can help you find a trial that is right for you, or you can search national databases to find trials for your specific type and stage of lung cancer. Before enrolling in a clinical trial, ask the research team as many questions as possible about the trial protocol, what you can expect, and how treatment costs will be covered.

A Word From Verywell

Participating in a clinical trial can be a way for you to access promising new treatments for your type and stage of lung cancer. For people with stage 4 lung cancers, a clinical trial may be the last treatment option available. Others may volunteer for clinical trials to be a part of the progress in advancing lung cancer care and offering hope to those living with lung cancer. Whatever your reason, a lung cancer community online will provide support, understanding, and guidance through your journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Have there been any breakthroughs in lung cancer research?

    Researchers have made several breakthroughs in lung cancer research in recent years. Biomarker research, for example, has helped researchers identify mutations associated with certain lung cancers and develop targeted therapies to improve treatment outcomes. 

  • Are lung cancer clinical trials difficult to join?

    Less than 5% of adults living with cancer enroll in cancer clinical trials, though 70% say they are willing to participate. Strict eligibility requirements, lack of trials in community-based settings, insufficient support, and financial limitations are cited as barriers to clinical trial participation. 

  • Do clinical trials pay participants?

    Cancer clinical trials do not pay participants. If you take part in a clinical trial, you will likely have extra appointments with your cancer care team so they can closely monitor your health. You may have more out-of-pocket costs when participating in a clinical trial (e.g., transportation, parking, meals).

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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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