There are many treatments available for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Depending on your cancer stage, you might have to undergo surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. You may also take medication that stimulates your immune system to kill cancer cells.
Eventually, you could reach a point where current treatments are no longer effectively treating your cancer. Or, you might want to try a treatment that works better than the one you’re on. That’s when it’s time to ask your doctor about joining a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are research studies that test new drugs, radiation therapies, surgical procedures, or other cancer treatments. Enrolling in one of these studies gives you a chance to try a treatment that isn’t available to the public. That new treatment could work better or have fewer side effects than currently approved cancer therapies.
By taking part in a trial, you’ll get access to top-notch medical care. You’ll also further the progress of scientific research. Clinical trials help researchers develop new treatments that could save other people’s lives in the future.
Researchers conduct clinical trials in three stages:
- Phase one trials include a small number of people — typically between 20 and 80. The goals are to learn how to give the treatment and to find out whether it’s safe.
- Phase two trials include a few hundred people. Researchers try to learn how well the treatment works against cancer and if it’s safe.
- Phase three trials include a few thousand people. They test the drug’s effectiveness and try to identify any possible side effects.
The specialists who run clinical trials make every effort to protect the safety of the participants. Researchers must follow stringent guidelines from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). This board monitors trials for safety, and it makes sure the benefits of any clinical trial outweigh the risks.
To find a trial for NSCLC, you can start by asking the doctor who treats your cancer. Or, do a search for NSCLC studies in your area on clinicaltrials.gov.
Cancer research studies are conducted in a variety of places, including:
- cancer centers
- doctors’ offices
- private clinics
- university research centers
- veterans’ and military hospitals
Everyone who takes part in a clinical trial must meet certain criteria. These conditions ensure that only the right candidates take part in the study.
The criteria may be based on your:
- cancer type and stage
- treatment history
- other medical conditions
To find out whether you are a good candidate, the research team will usually conduct a physical exam. You may also have blood tests and imaging tests to see whether you meet the study requirements.
If you’re not eligible for a study, you may still be able to get the treatment. This is called compassionate use. Ask the research team if you qualify.
Questions to ask
If you do meet the criteria of a clinical trial that interests you, here are a few questions to ask before you agree to join it:
- What is the treatment you’re studying?
- How might it help my NSCLC?
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- Who will pay for my tests and treatments?
- How long will the study last?
- How often will I have to go to the hospital or clinic?
- Who will care for me during the trial?
- How will the researchers know if the treatment is working?
- What kinds of side effects might it cause?
- What should I do if I experience side effects?
- Who can I call during the study if I have any questions or problems?
What to expect
Before you participate in a clinical trial, you’ll need to give your informed consent. This means you understand the purpose of the study and the possible risks of participating.
Usually, the researchers randomly assign you to a treatment group. You may get the active treatment being studied, or the usual treatment for your cancer. If the study is double blinded, neither you nor the people who are giving you the treatment will know which one you’re getting.
Sometimes an inactive drug called a placebo is used in clinical studies to compare the active treatment to no treatment. Placebos are rarely used in cancer studies. If some people in your study are going to get a placebo, the research team will let you know.
Taking part in a research study is voluntary. You have the right to leave the trial at any time. You may decide to stop if the treatment doesn’t work, or you develop any side effects from the new drug.
Joining a clinical trial is a personal choice with pros and cons. You could gain access to a new and better treatment for your cancer. But that new treatment might not work, or it could cause side effects.
Have a conversation with the doctor who treats your cancer. Weigh your options carefully before making a decision to join a clinical trial.
To learn more about clinical trials for NSCLC or find a study in your area, visit these websites: