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Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming tissues. It begins in the bone marrow and results in the production of abnormal blood cells. Most commonly, the abnormal blood cells are white blood cells called leukocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. The Leukemia Research Foundation reports that more than 254,000 Americans are living with leukemia.

If you’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, you’re probably eager to learn all you can about the disease. Armed with knowledge, you’ll be able to make better decisions about treatment plans. Clinical trials are an important option to consider if you want to broaden your choices.

What Are Leukemia Clinical Trials?

People who volunteer for clinical trials have access to therapies that aren’t available to public yet. Sometimes they’re more effective or have fewer side effects than treatments already on the market. On the other hand, there’s always a possibility that the new medication won’t work or may have unexpected toxicity. (And because most of these types of trials are blind and randomized, you won’t know until after the trial is completed if you’re in the new therapy group or the control group.)

A recent study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York found a possible cure for a deadly type of leukemia called B-ALL. Researchers experimented with the patients’ own cells which had been genetically changed. All five patients who were treated were later found to be cancer free. Although the results are promising, more extensive research is needed.

In another study, scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center developed a drug to treat CLL, the second most common form of leukemia in the United States. Results suggest that the new drug, Ibrutinib, may be the most effective treatment yet for this type of cancer. But again, further studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of the drug.

Participating in Leukemia Clinical Trials

Not every trial ends with such impressive results. But even the smallest improvements in care begin with studies involving patients. Participating doesn’t always mean taking a risk on a new drug. You might donate your blood or tissue to help create a data bank of knowledge about the disease. The more samples, the better chance scientists have of discovering trends or patterns that can lead to new directions in research.

Another way to take part is through quality of life surveys that show how well your therapy or treatment plan worked for you. Becoming a volunteer in a clinical trial can be an empowering experience. Regardless of its effect on you personally, you will be making an impact for future patients or even helping to find a cure.