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Clinical Studies -- Myths vs. Facts

Pervasive myths about clinical studies may make you hesitate to volunteer. Here are the facts.

MYTH: Patients in clinical studies are little more than human guinea pigs.
FACT: Some people balk at participating in clinical studies because they fear that doctors and researchers will treat them as a set of symptoms rather than as a human being. But the overwhelming majority of cancer patients who have participated in clinical trials say the experience was positive and that they were treated with respect.

MYTH: Clinical studies are not safe, I'd be gambling with my health if I signed up.
FACT: New treatments are tested on human subjects only after there is valid scientific evidence that the treatments are likely to be effective and safe. If you take part in a Phase III clinical trial, the drug or treatment has already been tested on small groups of patients for both safety and effectiveness.

MYTH: You should only agree to take part in a clinical study if your cancer is terminal or there are no other treatment options available outside a study.
FACT: Some clinical studies are reserved for cancer patients who have exhausted all the treatment options for their disease. But clinical studies of various types are open to patients at all stages of treatment. There are clinical studies that test ways of preventing a recurrence in breast cancer survivors, studies that look at cancer prevention in high-risk populations, and trials that compare different doses of chemotherapy drugs already in use.

MYTH: My health insurance won't pay for treatment provided through a clinical study.
FACT: Many people don't even consider a clinical study because they are afraid that their health insurance company will not cover the treatment. In fact, your health insurance may pay for treatment. The majority of patients in clinical trials receive reimbursement from their health insurance, but health insurance may not pay all the costs. To learn more, click here.

MYTH: Cancer patients may be given a placebo in a clinical study.
FACT: Placebos are not used in clinical studies that test cancer treatments. Patients either receive the new treatment or the best standard of care. A placebo may be used in a trial to test drugs that may prevent cancer, but the people enrolled in that trial would not have cancer.

MYTH: I will receive poorer medical treatment in a clinical study.
FACT: Patients in clinical trials receive either the best standard treatment or a new treatment that researchers believe will be at least as good as the standard treatment.

MYTH: I will get better medical treatment in a clinical study.
FACT: This may overstate the case. Researchers cannot guarantee outcomes. However, patients who participate in clinical studies sometimes do have higher survival rates than patients who receive standard treatment. And they are receiving treatment from doctors who are leaders in their fields.

Patients considering clinical studies should know that they will receive either the best standard treatment or a new treatment that researchers believe will be at least as good as the standard treatment. Patients in clinical studies also receive very close monitoring, which can be reassuring.

MYTH: If I join a clinical study I won't be able to drop out without jeopardizing my treatment.
FACT: This is not true. You may quit a clinical study at any time.

MYTH: Researchers do not want to enroll older cancer patients.
FACT: Older patients are underrepresented in clinical trials, but not because researchers do not want to sign them up. Only 25 percent of participants in clinical studies are aged 65 or older, although 63 percent of all cancer patients are 65 or older.

MYTH: Researchers and doctors may not spell out all of the risks associated with a clinical study.
FACT: The risks of a clinical study are probably overstated as part of the informed consent process.