Benefits and Risks of Participating in a Clinical Trial

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Each clinical trial has its own benefits and risks, depending on the type of trial and what it's trying to figure out. Still, there are some potential benefits and risks that are common to most clinical trials.

Potential benefits

  • Access to a treatment that isn't available yet. This treatment may be more effective or have fewer side effects than the treatments that are currently available.
  • Regular and careful attention from some of the best cancer doctors. The research team that conducts clinical trials usually includes top doctors and scientists from around the United States and the world, all of whom will be working together with you. Because of this close monitoring, any side effects you might have are noticed and dealt with immediately.
  • Treatment that may be free or low cost. Some clinical trials may pay for part or all of your treatment, other medical care, travel, and other expenses during the study. But not all clinical trials do this. Make sure you know exactly what you'll have to pay for BEFORE you agree to be part of a clinical trial.
  • Contributing to research that may save lives in the future. The breast cancer treatments we have today – including Herceptin, tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, taxanes, and more -- are available because large numbers of women opted to participate in clinical trials to test them.
  • The feeling that you're taking an active role in your care. Deciding to participate in a clinical trial can make some people feel as if they have more control over their situation, which can lead to a more positive outlook and better quality of life.

Potential risks

  • Not being able to choose which treatment you get. In randomized trials, you are randomly assigned to get a specific treatment. In some trials, you may be assigned to get a placebo (sugar pill). In a randomized, double-blinded trial, neither you nor your doctors know which treatment you're getting (but if the information is needed, it's available).
  • The new treatment may not work for you, even if it benefits other people in the trial. It also may turn out that the new treatment isn't as effective as what's currently available.
  • More severe side effects than current treatments. This is more likely to happen with Phase I or Phase II trials.
  • Your insurance company may not cover all the costs. Be sure to talk to both your insurance company and one of the clinical trial coordinators so you know exactly what you'll have to pay for BEFORE you agree to be part of a clinical trial.
  • More frequent testing and doctor visits. Because you'll be closely monitored, you may have to undergo testing more often than you would if you weren't in the trial. This could mean more travel and time in the doctor's office or hospital for you.

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