Clinical Oncology Trials: Making Advances in Cancer Care

Posted on January 6, 2015 in Research

Written by Dr. Ward

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What are Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are scientific studies that test the impact of medical treatment on a selected group of patients with a common medical condition.

Patients participating in clinical trials are provided with a medical intervention to treat their condition—which may refer to a drug or vaccine, surgery, medical device therapy, dietary regimen, or any other kind of medical treatment—and then monitored over the course of the study to determine the effectiveness and safety of that treatment.

All medical treatments must go through a rigorous testing process before being made widely available to patients. This process provides an organized pathway for scientists, physicians, and administrators to test new drugs, improve existing treatments, and make general advances in medical understanding.

Clinical trials are an important step in this process in three primary ways: 1) ensuring that standard treatment practices are safe and effective; 2) helping to refine and improve existing treatments; and 3) testing new treatments to determine their effects.

“Oncology” refers to the area of medicine used to treat cancer; clinical oncology trials are therefore clinical trials used to test and improve new or existing cancer-related treatments.

How do clinical trials work?

Clinical oncology trials are typically funded by companies in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device industries, or through grants made available by the government.

A clinical oncology trial typically begins with a study involving a small group of patients, all of whom have the same type of illness. Patients come in for treatment at a hospital or other medical facility, or are given treatments at home. Patients are then monitored throughout the study to track biological or psychological changes that may be caused by the treatment.

If a treatment appears safe and effective, by improving the targeted condition without causing side effects that outweigh the benefits, the trial is expanded to include more patients. Often, successful trials are expanded to include multiple organizations in multiple locations. Some span worldwide.

Cancer patients may decide to participate in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. Particularly for a patient with a poor prognosis, who may have few treatment options or has responded poorly to standard treatments, clinical oncology trials may provide an additional option.

Talking to your doctor

Patients should always discuss clinical trials with their doctors to weigh the risks and benefits. Patients and families may find more information about clinical trials visiting

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