Basics to Clinical Trials
Last updated: March 2023
In a world of instant and constantly measured experiences, rankings matter. If a hotel, a restaurant, or a shop had a 4.5/5 star rating from its patrons, it sounds like it would be a good place to eat, drink, sleep, and spend your discretionary income, right? So if I told you there is a healthcare service that has a 95% satisfaction rate, might you be interested in learning more? If so – continue reading. You are about to learn about what to expect when you consider participating in a clinical trial.
Everyone has actually benefited from clinical trials
Clinical trials – often misunderstood and maligned – are the foundation for all evidence-based medicine. If you have ever picked up a prescription or taken an over-the-counter medicine, you are the beneficiary of time, money, and most importantly, patient involvement on a clinical trial. Without clinical trials, pharmacies would be empty - literally. Yet 95% of those who have participated in them would definitely or probably recommend them to family and friends. If you are considering medical treatment for your skin cancer (or any other medical condition, for that matter!), clinical trials are something that all patients should ask their medical provider about. When you ask, here’s a little background information to help you understand just what clinical trials are and how they may benefit you.
What is a clinical trial?
In short, a clinical trial is a test of a therapy, treatment, treatment combination, or medical device. It is done in a controlled setting that allows data to be comparable across different trial sites. The purpose of a clinical trial is to determine if a treatment is safe for use in humans, and effective as compared to a current standard of care. As a clinical trial participant, you will be given a therapy that has shown promise in extensive pre-clinical testing, but, while promising, has not yet proven to be safe and/or effective. You will be giving scientists that proof while also getting medicine that has the potential to be (sometimes significantly) better than existing treatments.
How do I find a clinical trial?
All interventional trials (a trial where medicine is given) in the United States are required to be registered on www.clinicaltrials.gov. This database lists the details of the trials, including where they are found, how to contact the places that are conducting them, what is being tested, and how the results are measured. It is also where the trial results get posted upon trial completion, and can serve as a tool for researchers to understand what a certain drug does. The experience in navigating clinicaltrials.gov can be… challenging. There are a number of clinical trial finders out there, some of which are using heuristics and artificial intelligence to “match” patients with trials – basically, navigating the clinicaltrials.gov database to find a trial that is right for you.
Clinical trial enrollment challenges
As mentioned earlier, clinical trials are an extremely important part of the healthcare landscape. Without them, there is no evidence-based medicine - we would not "know" what treatments work, or work better, than others. Rigorous testing is necessary to ensure that patients are given medicine that has been proven to work (testimonials, which are the hallmark of many "alternative" treatments, is not evidence that a therapy is effective OR safe). With only 16% of cancer patients aware of clinical trial options and less than half of them opting into one, there becomes a shortage of volunteers to fill existing and potential trials. The only way new medicines make it to you, the "healthcare consumer", is if the trials get completed. And the way you, the consumer, make the best decision on your health is if you have multiple options and know what all of them are.
Final thoughts on considering trials
Safety is the most important part of a clinical trial. You and your doctor share the responsibility to constantly monitor your health – both so your health is OK and that others who are/will take the drug will know of potential side effects. Work with your doctor to insure they are aware of anything adverse, EVEN if you think it doesn’t relate to your trial. Both your health, and that of someone down the road who may take the medicine you are on, depend on knowing how these new treatments affect someone.
And thank you - if you are participating in a clinical trial, or are considering it, thank you. Someone - maybe my kids, maybe yours, maybe a whole bunch of people you will never meet - may be the beneficiary of your involvement in bringing new medicine to our healthcare world.
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