Where to Find Cancer Clinical Trials
A cancer diagnosis can be one of the scariest things a doctor can give you. But, many people understand just how scary it is to be diagnosed with cancer and willingly volunteer for clinical trials to help doctors and researchers find viable treatments and medications. If you are interested in joining a clinical trial to help other people with cancer, you’re in the right place.
This article covers everything you need to know about joining a clinical trial for cancer treatments. We’ll cover the basics of what cancer is and why knowing what type of cancer you have will help determine which clinical trials you are eligible for. Then, we’ll show you exactly where you can find and enroll in the latest cancer clinical trial.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a general term for a number of much more specific diseases that have the same basic outcome. Cancer is essentially a breakdown of communication pathways within cells that tell each cell when to grow and divide. Cancerous cells continuously grow and divide, regardless of the signals the body and adjacent cells are sending them. Over time, cancer cells can form invasive tumors that disrupt various bodily functions. Or, cancer cells can break apart and metastasize throughout the body. This is especially dangerous because it can seed cancerous tumors in many different areas around your body.
There are literally hundreds of different types of cancer, based on the tissue that the cancer started in and the exact pathway within the cell that has broken and caused the cell to become cancerous. Your doctor and oncologist can identify the type of cancer you have based on tissue samples and genetic analysis of the cancer cells. The type of cancer you have can qualify you for certain clinical trials, so it is important to know if you are trying to enroll.
Genetics of Cancer
Cancer is an inherently genetic disease. Cancer results from mutations in genes that control various aspects of cell division and regulation. Mutated genes result in dysfunctional proteins, which can no longer regulate and control cell division and growth. In turn, cells undergo many changes that make them grow out of control and spread throughout the tissues of your body. In fact, the mutations that cause cancer can also help doctors diagnose what type of cancer you have.
Furthermore, certain genetic variants are more likely to mutate and cause cancer than other genetic variants. In some cases, researchers can predict your risk for developing certain cancers by the genes you carry. For instance, certain mutations within the BRCA genes can lead to a massive increase in the risk for breast cancer. The problem is, only a small portion of the population carries these variants. This makes it hard to predict who will get cancer based on genetics alone. Plus, environmental factors like sun exposure, toxic chemicals, and even your diet and exercise can change your risk factors for developing different types of cancer.
Are there Treatments for Cancer?
There are many treatments for cancer. Most commonly, treatments for cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy (antibody treatment), radiation therapy, and/or bone marrow transplants - all depending on the type and severity (or stage) of cancer you have. Some treatments, known as palliative care, are intended to treat the side effects of the treatments you are receiving, instead of the cancer itself.
The treatment guidelines of any treatment you receive are based on recommendations that were created from data obtained through clinical trials and observations of treatment methods. Part of joining a clinical trial is gaining the opportunity to help doctors and researchers determine what the best treatments are for various types and stages of cancers. Sometimes this means testing a new combination of approved treatments, and sometimes this means testing an entirely new treatment.
What Are Clinical Trials?
Clinical trials represent the final step in testing a cancer treatment or medication. First, the medication or treatment must be developed, tested in animals, and typically tested on human cells before it reaches the clinical trial stage. Then, researchers establish a new research study and recruit cancer patients and caregivers to test the new drugs or treatments. Cancer care is typically very specific to cancer type (i.e., carcinoma, leukemia, lymphoma, etc.), and this is also true of cancer clinical trials. For example, different treatments are required for metastatic breast cancer compared to multiple myeloma or ovarian cancer.
Clinical trials are broken into 3 phases. Phase I is the beginning of clinical trials and is typically used to test simple safety standards. In phases II and III, researchers begin to test survivorship and efficacy of a specific treatment or combination of treatments. Volunteers should know that all oncology research (and other human research) is overseen by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). IRBs are made up of researchers and ethics professionals who ensure that new cancer treatments are theoretically safe and that patients receive a high standard of care.
Why Do People Join Clinical Studies?
Clinical research is absolutely necessary in order to find, test, and discover newer and more effective forms of treatment for cancer and other diseases. People join clinical studies to further cancer research and help researchers at organizations like the NIH (National Institutes of Health) create effective treatment options for melanomas, prostate cancer, and other forms of cancer.
Clinical trials compare the new treatment with older forms of treatment that have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In some cases, patients are given a placebo (a non-active faux medication) to see how treatment options work against a non-treated patient. However, this is rare in the case of dangerous or advanced cases of cancer.
Where to Find Clinical Trials (Including Cancer Centers)
There are many cancer centers throughout the United States that are conducting clinical trials in different phases for patients with different eligibility criteria. For instance, some studies are for stage IV lung cancer patients, while others are for stage I pancreatic cancer.
To begin your journey into joining a clinical trial, follow one of the links below to search for clinical trials in your area:
National Cancer Institute Supported Clinical Trials - trials supported by NCI Cancer Centers
ClinicalTrials.gov - Find all clinical trials funded by NIH and other government agencies
Cancer Treatment Centers of America - clinical trials at cancer centers across the country
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center - 3 sites in Phoenix, Jacksonville, and Rochester
Plus, be sure to check with any cancer centers, universities, or research hospitals in your area. They may have ongoing clinical trials and may be able to coordinate with your current healthcare provider more easily!
National Cancer Institute (NCI) - What is Cancer?
American Cancer Society - What is Cancer?
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Cancer
Centers for Disease Control - Cancer Treatments
National Institutes of Health, The Cancer Journal - The Genetics of Cancer Risk
National Cancer Institute (NCI) - The Genetics of Cancer