In recent years, new treatments for mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) have helped improve life expectancy and quality of life in many people with this disease. However, MCL is still generally considered incurable.

In their ongoing search for a cure, researchers around the world are continuing to develop and test new treatment approaches for MCL.

To access those experimental treatments, the American Cancer Society suggests that people with MCL may want to participate in a clinical trial.

Read on to learn more about the potential benefits and risks of doing so.

A clinical trial is a type of research study in which participants receive treatment, use a device, or undergo a test or other procedure that’s being studied.

Researchers use clinical trials to learn if new medications and other therapies are safe and effective for treating specific diseases, including MCL. They also use clinical trials to compare new and existing treatment approaches to learn which are best suited for specific groups of patients.

During clinical trials on treatments for MCL, researchers collect information about the side effects that participants develop during treatment. They also collect information about the apparent effects of the treatment on participants’ survival, symptoms, and other health outcomes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approves new treatments after they’re found to be safe and effective in clinical trials.

Before a new cancer treatment is tested in a clinical trial, it goes through multiple phases of laboratory testing.

During laboratory testing, scientists may test the treatment on cancer cells grown in petri dishes or test tubes. If the results of those tests are promising, they may test the treatment in live animals such as lab mice.

If the treatment is found to be safe and effective in animal studies, the scientists may then develop a clinical trial protocol to study it in humans.

A panel of experts reviews each clinical trial protocol to help ensure that the study is conducted in a safe and ethical way.

Taking part in a clinical trial may give you access to an experimental treatment approach that hasn’t been approved or made widely available yet, such as:

  • a new type of immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or gene therapy
  • a new strategy for using existing treatments in different stages of MCL
  • a new way of combining existing treatments in combination therapy

There’s no guarantee that the experimental treatment approach will work. However, it may give you a treatment option when standard treatments aren’t available or haven’t worked well for you.

If you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you’ll also be helping researchers learn more about MCL. This may help them improve treatment options for patients in the future.

In some cases, it might be more affordable for you to receive treatment in a clinical trial. Study sponsors sometimes cover some or all of the cost of participants’ treatment.

If you receive an experimental treatment in a clinical trial, it’s possible that the treatment:

  • may not work as well as standard treatments
  • may not work any better than standard treatments
  • may cause unexpected and potentially serious side effects

In some clinical trials, researchers compare an experimental treatment with a standard treatment. If the trial is “blinded,” participants don’t know which treatment they’re receiving. You might get the standard treatment — and later find out that the experimental treatment works better.

Sometimes, clinical trials compare an experimental treatment with a placebo. A placebo is a treatment that doesn’t include active cancer-fighting components. However, placebos are rarely used alone in clinical trials on cancer.

You might find it inconvenient to participate in a clinical trial, particularly if you have to attend frequent appointments or travel long distances to get treatment or testing.

To find current and upcoming clinical trials for people with MCL, it may help to:

  • ask your doctor if they know about any clinical trials for which you might be eligible
  • search for relevant clinical trials using the databases operated by the National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Library of Medicine, or CenterWatch
  • check the websites of pharmaceutical manufacturers for information about clinical trials they’re currently conducting or planning for the future

Some organizations also provide clinical trial matching services to help people find trials that fit their needs and circumstances.

Before you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you should talk to your doctor and members of the clinical trial research team to learn about the potential benefits, risks, and costs of participating.

Here’s a list of questions you may find helpful to ask:

  • Do I meet the criteria for this clinical trial?
  • Will the researchers collaborate with my treatment team?
  • Will the researchers give participants a placebo, standard treatment, or experimental treatment? Will I know which treatment I receive?
  • What’s already known about the treatment being studied in this trial?
  • What are the potential side effects, risks, or benefits of the treatment?
  • What tests will I need to undergo during the trial?
  • How often and where will I get treatments and tests?
  • Will I have to pay out of pocket for the cost of treatments and tests?
  • Will my insurance provider or the study sponsor cover any costs?
  • Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns?
  • What happens if I decide I no longer want to participate?
  • When is the study scheduled to end? What will happen when the study ends?

Your doctor can help you weigh the potential benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial. They can also help you understand your other treatment options.

If standard treatment options are unlikely to meet your treatment needs or goals with MCL, your doctor might encourage you to consider participating in a clinical trial.

Your doctor can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of taking part in a clinical trial. They can also help you learn more about your other treatment options if you decide not to take part in a clinical trial or if you’re not eligible for any clinical trials.

Talk to your doctor to learn if participating in a clinical trial may be a good choice for you.