Clinical trials for cancer

Clinical trials are used to test how effective and safe new and updated treatments and techniques are for treating cancer. You might be given the option to take part in a clinical trial during your treatment, find out more about what that might involve here.  

  • Doctors, scientists and researchers are always working to try and improve existing cancer treatments, and create new types of treatment 
  • When they test these out it’s called a ‘clinical trial’ 
  • Treatments go through a lot of testing and a strict process before they’re allowed to be used in clinical trials 
  • You can also find more info about clinical trials, biobanking and genomics here

Is a clinical trial right for me?

Only you can decide if you want to get involved in a clinical trial. Our advice? Ask as many questions as you like. Write them down before appointments so you don’t forget anything – you can use the notes section in the back of this guide to keep track of everything. Find out exactly what’s involved. Talk it through with people close to you. Make sure you understand what’s involved. And don’t rush into a decision. 

Remember, it’s not a problem at all if you choose not to get involved. 

Alternatively, if you’re interested in getting involved in a trial but it’s not been mentioned, talk to your doctors. They might know about a trial that would be suitable for you. 

There are different phases of clinical trials and they are usually classified between 0-4. 

What are clinical trials for cancer?

Clinical trials are a type of research used to find out if new treatments and techniques (or a new combination of standard treatments) are more 

effective than the ones that already exist. They do this by giving people the new treatment and keeping track of how they respond to it. 

It’s a really important part of developing new and improved treatments. 

Clinical trials might test: 

  • New drugs 

  • New types of radiation therapy 

  • New surgical methods 

  • New ways to combine treatments 

  • New treatments like gene therapy 

You might be given the option to take part in a clinical trial as part of your treatment. 

If you are given this option, you can ask as many questions as you need to and weigh up the pros and cons before you decide if you want to be involved. 

Are clinical trials safe?

Clinical trials happen at the end of a long, tightly controlled process. Doctors and researchers will only suggest you take part in a clinical trial if they think it’s right for you. 

All clinical trials are designed to be as safe as possible, and young people tend to be involved in ‘Phase 3’ trials. 

These trials compare new and existing treatments to see which ones work best. 

Many of the standard treatments for cancer started out in clinical trials, and many people now have a better quality of life thanks to knowledge gained during clinical trials. 

Are clinical trials worth it?

It’s completely up to you whether you want to take part in a clinical trial. 

It’s important to remember that the treatment you are given during a clinical trial may or may not be better than existing treatments. 

That’s what the trial is designed to find out. 

You’ll be closely monitored, probably more so than normally during cancer treatment. This means any changes to your health will usually get picked up quickly. 

By testing new treatments, you’re also helping to improve the care given to other young people with cancer in the future. 

Where do clinical trials happen?

Clinical trials take place in lots of different hospitals so you might not need to travel a long way to take part in one. However, some trials do only take place in big centres – particularly if they involve rare cancers or use new drugs. Taking part in one of those trials might mean you have to travel away from home to take part. 

Can I ask questions during a clinical trial?

Definitely. The research team has a duty to make sure you understand what’s going on. 

So ask as many questions as you can think of. You’ll be given the contact details for someone you can talk to at any time as well so make sure you make use of that if you have questions or concerns. 

What happens on a clinical trial?

Phase 3 trials usually involve hundreds of people in lots of different places. A computer randomly splits everyone into two groups. 

Half of the people will be in the trial group and will be given the new treatment. 

The other half, called the ‘control group’, will be given the best treatment that’s already available. The results are compared to see which treatment is most effective. Neither of the treatments will have a negative effect or make you more ill. 

You won’t know which group you’re in and being involved in a trial means you might need to have more check-ups than normal, and these might last slightly longer. You might have more blood tests, scans and other tests too. 

If your doctors think the trial isn’t working for you, they’ll take you off it. And, if you’re not happy, you can withdraw at any point. Your doctors will understand, it won’t affect the rest of your treatment and you won’t be asked any awkward questions.