YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER
Remember that studies strive to
provide answers that are not yet known.
Occasionally, a treatment in a clinical
trial turns out to be a home run. More
often, these newer approaches are only
a bit better than standard treatments,
and they can be less effective. In fact, a
recent study found that only one in 20
oncology drugs tested in phase I trials
eventually receive U.S. Food and Drug
Still, some cancer patients decide to
take part in a drug trial, hoping for a personal benefit but also seeking to contribute to science. It’s a common misconception that you must have advanced disease
to participate in these types of studies.
In fact, numerous clinical trials are
available to patients at all stages of their
disease. (A searchable registry of clinical
trials is available at clinicaltrials.gov.)
Here are some questions to ask before
participating in a clinical trial.
1) Am I good candidate for a clinical
trial? What are the potential benefits
of my participation? What are the
potential downsides for me?
2) How much will my insurance cover?
Many clinical trials are funded by government agencies or pharmaceutical
companies, which often pay for the cost
of experimental medications, extra blood
tests and scans given for research purposes. Most insurance plans are required
to cover routine patient care costs during
a clinical trial. Plans are not required to
cover out-of-network doctors if they are
not part of your insurance coverage.
3) How many extra trips to the hospital
will be needed? Will there be extra
blood draws or scans?
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
A lot of the knowledge we have about current treatments comes from clinical trials. You may be wondering if an experimental drug might be better than your current
Learn what questions to ask before participating in a study.
4) Are there alternatives, including
standard treatments, that I should
also be considering?
5) What effects will participation in this
trial have on my daily life?
You can change your mind and withdraw from a trial at any time. But before
agreeing to take part, do your homework
and be realistic. You aren’t signing up
for a miracle; you are signing up to help
doctors gather information. It is a bonus
if the treatment also helps you.
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed independent
clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor and
the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She also writes a
blog, Living With Cancer, for the hospital’s website.
DRUG TRIALS 101
Before you enroll in a clinical trial, familiarize
yourself with the main phases.
• Phase I clinical trials test the safety of a new
drug, generally for the first time. The first
participants in this type of trial get a low dose of
the drug. If there are minimal side effects, other
participants get a larger dose to identify the
highest possible and safest dose.
• Phase II clinical trials provide more safety
information and explore the effectiveness of the
drug to find out if it works for a particular cancer.
• Phase III clinical trials explore how effective and
tolerable the new treatment is compared with
the standard of care.