Should you be part of a clinic trial?
First, many questions need to be answered
Sometimes when you are undergoing treatment for cancer or are at risk for developing cancer, your doctor might suggest a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies that test new ways to prevent, find, predict prognosis of, or treat cancer. Canada is an international leader in conducting clinical trials and the Canadian Cancer Society is a major contributor to significant research to improve the quality of life for people with cancer.
Clinical trials allow specialists to carefully study a promising treatment or a suspected link between cancer and a substance or behaviour. Cancer treatments may show positive results in lab tests or in small groups of people, but researchers have to show that these treatments are safe and work well in a large group of people before Health Canada will approve them.
Health Canada has strict controls and regulations to keep people safe – and in some cases these rules are different than in other countries so if you hear about a new drug or promising treatment don’t assume it is also available in Canada.
Some people believe that by entering a trial they will get free medication. That may be true, but it may also be that you receive a “placebo” or drug without an active substance. This is to eliminate as many variables as possible to evaluate whether or not the medication or treatment is effective. It is important for researchers to know that any changes are due to the actual effects of the drug and not expectations, hopes or imaginings of participants.
Before you decide to enter a clinical trial, you need to consider the benefits or risks and how your participation may affect your quality of life. There are benefits to you if you qualify and enrol – such as access to new medications and close monitoring by professionals but benefits might not be apparent immediately and may not even be personal. Some trial participants view their role as helping others in the future as scientists learn more about the disease, treatments and outcomes.
Just because you participate in a trial there is no guarantee that you have access to the medication after completion because it may still take years for the drug to be approved for the general public. You may have to travel to a central location for appointments and your quality of life might be affected at least temporarily. It will be crucial that you follow the protocol (action plan) exactly as prescribed. If you don’t or if you supplement the medication with other drugs, the results could affect the outcome and lead to faulty conclusions.
There are many questions to ask before you agree to join a clinical trial and your medical team will be ready to reassure you. You should ask about the nature of the study, the length of it, what you can expect, and what is expected of you during and after the study. You will want to know about possible discomfort, life style changes and expenses while participating in the trial. Pre-plan your questions using the guide on the Canadian Cancer Society website (www. cancer.ca) and be ready to ask any others that come up during your consultation.
If you have cancer and are interested in being considered for a clinical trial, consult your doctor, or investigate on your own through the Canadian Cancer Society or other reputable online resource.
If you want to know more about clinical trials, please talk to an information specialist at 1-888939-3333, visit the website, or call the Canadian Cancer Society Community Office. Cathy Telfer is an information outreach volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton.