Joining a Clinical Trial


Cancer impacts all parts of the globe and has throughout recorded history. But in the last 50 years especially, researchers have dedicated significant amounts of time, money, and resources to conquering this dreadful disease. In the US, this research has decreased the cancer death rate by over 25 percent. 

The advancements in cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment could not be accomplished without one major component: clinical trials. 

Clinical trials are research studies that test a medical intervention, such as cancer screenings and treatment, on humans. They help researchers know if an approach is safe and effective for people. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy could not be used had it not been for clinical trials. 

By joining a clinical trial, you’re helping cancer researchers find new ways to prevent and treat cancer. Clinical trials are not a last resort in your cancer care. You’re gaining access to new treatments and helping save lives. 

Here’s an overview of clinical trials, including benefits, safety, and how to participate in one. 

Ideas for cancer prevention and treatment usually start in the lab. This helps researchers determine which treatments are promising enough to move into clinical trials. 

There are several types of cancer clinical research: 

  • Treatment research, which focuses on new treatments, like medications or new ways to perform surgery
  • Prevention research, which examines new approaches to preventing cancer
  • Screening research, which explores the best way to detect cancer, especially in its early stages
  • Diagnostic research, which concentrates on improving ways to identify cancer 
  • Quality of life research, which explores ways to improve comfort and quality of life for cancer patients

By the time a treatment is on the market, it will have taken 10 to 15 years of research and millions of dollars to develop and confirm its safety and efficacy. 

Most clinical research involves the testing of a new drug and occurs through a series of steps called phases:

  • Phase I trials, which test a treatment on a small group of individuals for the first time. This phase focuses on the treatment’s safety, including what side effects can occur and what is considered a safe dosage.
  • Phase II trials, which continue to test the safety of the treatment and begin to evaluate how well it works, this time on a larger group of people
  • Phase III trials, which give a treatment to an even larger number of people to confirm how effective it is, continue to monitor side effects, and compare it to other similar treatments
  • Phase IV trials, which are performed after the treatment has been shown to work and the company has been given a license to sell it. Conducting these trials helps find out more about the side effects and safety of the treatment, as well as its long-term risks and benefits. 

Clinical trials are crucial to the advancement of cancer research and treatments. Clinical trials have helped improve medications, vaccinations, surgical approaches, and medical devices. 

If you’re battling cancer, clinical trials give you access to new, groundbreaking treatments before they’re available to everyone else. You might respond to these treatments better than standard approaches. You’ll also have additional support from the care teams involved in clinical trials, including doctors and other medical experts. 

On a larger scale, taking part in clinical trials means you’ll play an integral role in shaping the future of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. The information gathered from your clinical trial can save the lives of others in the future. 

Clinical trials offer a way to access groundbreaking cancer treatments and help save lives. Still, many people wonder about the safety of clinical trials. 

The research process for cancer treatment starts with years of pre-trial research and testing and ends with several phases of clinical trials. This means that the treatment has already been studied extensively before it ever reaches the clinical trial stage. 

However, similar to other cancer treatments and routine medical care, there are some risks with clinical trials. Risks can include: 

  • Minor discomfort from treatments, which usually lasts only a short time
  • Complications that require you to seek medical attention 
  • Extra time and dedication, including more appointments, procedures, and complex medication schedules
  • In rare cases, serious or life-threatening complications during experimental treatments

In some clinical trials, researchers use what’s called a placebo — or an inactive substance or treatment. This helps determine what treatments are effective. If you would be put at risk by using a placebo and not being treated, placebos would not be used. 

Before taking part in a clinical trial, you can learn about its specific risks and benefits. You can also ask any questions and review any concerns before agreeing to participate. 

Some patients are concerned about whether or not their insurance will cover the cost of treatment from a clinical trial. 

More and more states — including Louisiana — are requiring private insurance companies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and managed care organizations (MCOs) to pay for the routine medical care associated with a patient's enrollment in a clinical trial.

Based on this policy, any procedure that would be required as part of routine care, such as doctor’s visits, imaging tests, and lab work, must be paid for by the insurance company. This is true even if you’re enrolled in a clinical trial. Non-routine care is provided by the sponsor of the clinical trial, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a pharmaceutical company, or another research organization.

LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center has played a critical role in advancing cancer research through clinical trials. Outcomes from clinical trials have improved cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment — starting with patients here in Louisiana. 

Because of our diverse patient population, our trials have also yielded insight into underserved populations. For instance, immunotherapy — which helps your immune system fight cancer — has been historically understudied in diverse populations. An ongoing direct trial conducted at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center, which is made up of a majority of Black patients, is gathering crucial information on the impact of these treatments on this population. 

Our Clinical Trials Office is constantly filling gaps in clinical trial offerings to provide our patients with new and groundbreaking treatment options that can dramatically improve their care and save lives. 

How to Join a Clinical Trial

For more information about participating in a clinical trial, please visit the Gulf South Clinical Trials Network or call 504-407-7395.


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