Clinical Trials: What, Why, When and Where?

Ahrin Koppel, MD, Medical Oncology and Hematology
Ahrin Koppel, MD, Medical Oncology and Hematology

Today’s cancer treatments are complex, confusing and expensive. The Internet provides a surplus of information on treatment options, which often can seem endless. For the average person, navigating this labyrinth can be overwhelming. One important aspect to understand about cancer treatment is the difference between standard therapies and experimental therapies. This difference is important and often not clear from your typical Google search.

Standard cancer treatments are interventions, which may be drugs, devices or procedures that have been proven to be safe and effective in treating cancer. Experimental therapies are drugs, devices or procedures that are being studied but are not yet proven to be more effective at treating cancer than standard treatment. This research process is conducted through structured human studies called clinical trials. Participation in a clinical trial is completely voluntary and can offer access to novel treatment options beyond standard cancer treatment.

People are living longer with cancer due to treatment advances, all of which were tested and proven in past clinical trials. Participation in a clinical trial benefits patients by offering new treatment options not otherwise available and empowers patients to help the others that will inevitably follow. Clinical trials are available for all stages of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Frequently, standard treatment options with proven safety and efficacy are offered as the first line of therapy. However, if a well-designed clinical trial is available as the first line of treatment, participation is always encouraged.

Fewer than 1 in 20 people with cancer enroll in cancer clinical trials. Most trials are conducted at the university level while most cancer treatment is provided in the community setting such as ours. This discrepancy can be attributed to many factors, with distance being paramount. Often, participation in a clinical trial requires patients to make frequent trips to that facility, which may not always be possible. At the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, we offer clinical trials through our affiliation with UC Davis, and we will soon offer trials through the UCLA TRIO network. We are committed to providing high-quality clinical studies for cancer patients in the North Lake Tahoe region that would otherwise only be available at larger institutions and would require patients to travel a significant distance for treatment. Please visit our website for more information.

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