How Clinical Trials Work for Lung Cancer

Clinical trials are critical to the development of new lung cancer treatment strategies. Many of these studies are currently being conducted to find new ways to treat and ease the symptoms of lung cancer treatment.

The Purpose of Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies done to evaluate whether a drug or treatment is both safe and effective for people. Prior to being used in clinical trials, drugs or procedures are first evaluated extensively in the lab and/or in animal studies.

Participating in a clinical trial can provide researchers with valuable information on new treatments; in some cases, it may also offer the chance for a cure or improvement in a patient's quality of life that's not provided by standard therapy. Participation in clinical trials is voluntary, and individuals are allowed to discontinue the treatment at any time.

The Different Types of Clinical Trials

Clinical trials can be categorized both by types and by phases. Types of trials are separated based on the question researchers are attempting to answer. There are several different types of clinical trials including prevention trials, diagnostic trials, treatment trials, and those focused on methods of diagnosing cancer accurately.

Phases of clinical trials are divided based on how far along the drug or procedure is in the research process. There are 4 different phases of clinical trials for cancer. Phase 1 clinical trials are the first to be conducted on humans and are designed to evaluate safety. Phase 2 trials are done to see if a new treatment is effective.

Phase 3 trials are done as the last step before the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) considers approval, and are used primarily to determine the effectiveness of a drug or procedure in relation to the current "standard of care" treatments available.

It takes an average of 8 years from the time a drug or treatment enters a clinical trial until it is approved by the FDA for use by the general public, but thankfully, this process is working faster for some new treatments in recent years.

Participating in a Clinical Trial

All clinical trials have specific requirements that must be met for individuals to participate. Some of these are limited to certain ages, stages of a disease, or other health conditions. With lung cancer, some trials are designed to only study smokers, and others may be limited to those who have never smoked.

How to Know If a Clinical Trial Is Right for You

Choosing to participate in a clinical trial is a very personal decision. A clinical trial may offer a treatment before it is widely available, but it also carries potential risks. Thinking about the benefits and risks of clinical trials and asking specific questions can help you determine if a clinical trial is right for you.

Finding Clinical Trials

Your oncologist or cancer treatment center may recommend a clinical trial, or you may wish to search on your own for a trial that fits your particular situation. Several databases are available that provide lists or matching services for those with lung cancer. A few of these include:

  • Lung Cancer Clinical Trial Matching Service: Several organizations including the National Lung Cancer Partnership, the Lung Cancer Alliance, LUNGevity, and CancerCare provide this personalized confidential service to help locate clinical trials that might be an option for you. This is a free service in which a nurse navigator will look at your particular cancer, stage, and other information, and compare this with clinical trials available worldwide.
  • This directory is provided by the National Institute of Health and lists more than 55,000 clinical trials. Trials for lung cancer can be found by searching under "lung neoplasm."
  • CenterWatch: Clinical Trials Listing Service: CenterWatch provides extensive links to clinical trials that are available internationally.
  • National Cancer Institute: The National Cancer Institute provides links to thousands of cancer clinical trials; you can search by cancer type and treatment location.

If you are worried about participating in a clinical trial—after all, many of us have heard the joke about being guinea pigs—learn more about the myths about clinical trials.

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