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The Importance of Cancer Clinical Trials

Nov. 7, 2022

Does the term "clinical trial" bring to mind risky treatments being tested on seriously ill patients as a last resort? If so, that image can't be further from the truth.

Rather, a clinical trial is a way for people who are ill to access potentially groundbreaking approaches or therapies currently being developed.

What is a cancer clinical trial?

"Cancer clinical trials often test new kinds of surgery or combinations of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy," says Dr. Eric Bernicker, a medical oncologist at Houston Methodist. "It's important to know that clinical trials aren't just for late-stage cancers. We offer clinical trials for various stages of cancer that address the full spectrum of cancer care."

Why consider participating in a clinical trial?

Taking part in a clinical trial helps you take an active role in your health care.

During a trial, the research staff meets with you regularly to monitor your health and safety. And you continue to work with your primary-care provider or oncologist, who make sure any research medication doesn't interfere with your other medicines.

You can stop participating at any time.

When you participate in a clinical trial, you're also contributing to medical research that may help others in the future.

"In oncology, we've had unparalleled developments in targeted therapies, expansion of molecular testing and immunotherapy combinations," Dr. Bernicker notes. "These advances would've been unthinkable if patients hadn't participated in these trials, and there remains work to be done."

Does clinical trial participation come with risks?

You may suffer side effects or a bad reaction to the treatment you're receiving, but the government regulates most clinical trials to ensure safeguards are in place. For example, participants can't be exposed to experimental drugs with unreasonable risks.

You also may have to make many trips to the study site, be hospitalized or undergo complicated medical dosages. Remember, too, that the experimental treatment you receive doesn't guarantee effectiveness.

Talk at length with your doctor to determine whether a trial is right for you. The more you know, the better prepared and more at ease you'll be about participating in a clinical trial.

Plan to ask your doctor:

  • What is the trial's purpose?
  • Why do doctors and researchers believe the experimental treatment will be effective?
  • How do the possible benefits, risks and side effects compare with those of my current medication?
  • How long is the trial?
  • Who pays for the treatment, and will I be reimbursed for other expenses?
  • How will I know the treatment is working, and will I receive the trial results?


The importance of expanding participation and equity in clinical trials

Increasing awareness about clinical trials is key to better outcomes for all patients.

"People should know that they have options, and they have a choice to participate in clinical trials," Dr. Bernicker says. "From a biology and scientific standpoint as well as an equity standpoint, it's essential that we do a better job of expanding participation in clinical trials to a much more diverse group of participants."

That means enrolling more women and people from Black, Asian and Latino communities as well as rural residents, less talked about but also historically underrepresented in trials.

"At Houston Methodist, we're uniquely set to improve the diversity of our clinical trials because of the vast geographical reach and the diversity of our state," says Dr. Bernicker.

How to find a clinical trial

Researchers around the world, including at Houston Methodist, are actively working on every aspect of cancer treatment, with the purpose of sharing that innovation with their communities.

"Physicians and medical researchers work closely together to bring advances to our patients as quickly and safely as possible," says Dr. Bernicker.

You can find ongoing cancer clinical trials at Houston Methodist here.

The many available clinical trials offer a range of studies and innovative therapies in a number of areas, including:

  • Bone marrow transplantation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Imaging technology advancements
  • The latest radiation techniques
  • Leading surgical techniques
  • Prevention in high-risk populations
  • Targeted therapy


"Out-of-town travel for clinical trials can be a burden for some patients, which is why it makes sense to bring clinical trials out to the communities whenever possible," Bernicker adds.

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Categories: Tips to Live By
Tags: Cancer