Clinical trials help identify new cancer therapies and provide people diagnosed with cancer an opportunity to access the latest treatment approaches. These trials are the standard by which we measure the worth of new treatments and the quality of life of people as they receive those treatments.

Many trials include an assessment of the genetic or molecular characteristics of a person’s cancer that could be linked to the success of a specific type of treatment.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer, has identified the five most important accomplishments made through clinical trials over the last 50 years:

  • As a result of chemotherapy advancements, 90 percent of Hodgkin lymphoma cases can now be cured regardless of whether they are diagnosed early or at an advanced stage.

  • Imatinib, a targeted therapy, results in long-term remission of most cases of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and is used in the treatment of many other types of cancer.

  • A three-drug regimen (the chemotherapies cisplatin and vinblastine, and the anti-tumor antibiotic bleomycin) cures almost 100 percent of men with advanced testicular cancer.

  • Cervical cancer can be prevented by the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.

  • Anti-nausea drugs that have been developed, evaluated and approved by the FDA have improved the quality of life for people with cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, there are a number of benefits associated with clinical trial participation, including:

  • Access to promising new cancer treatments. Clinical trials often evaluate cutting-edge therapies that are not available outside of the clinical trial setting, providing you with a treatment option that may be more effective than your current therapy.

  • The chance to play a more active role in your health care. Participating in a clinical trial is educational and informative, and allows you to gain a greater understanding of your cancer and its treatment. It can also increase the control you have over your situation, which can lead to reduced stress levels and a better quality of life.

  • Close observation by cancer experts. Although your oncologist will likely still be responsible for providing your overall cancer care, clinical trial participants are closely observed by the trial team. This is, in part, because a clinical trial must follow a strict protocol (plan) and researchers need to be sure that the information they get from the trial is accurate and complete.

  • Contributing to cancer research. People who participate in clinical trials are vital to advancing medical care for people with cancer. The information gathered in clinical trials adds to scientific knowledge and leads to the approval of new treatment approaches.

As with all drugs, there may be risks associated with drugs used in clinical trials. These risks include side effects and the possibility that the treatment may not work as well as the researchers had hoped. Before you agree to enter a trial, a member of your health care team will carefully explain these potential risks.

Weighing the risks and benefits of a clinical trial is a very personal process. There is no right or wrong answer. Only you can decide if a trial is right for you.