Editor’s note: January is National Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials Awareness Month. In honor of the month, we are re-sharing this piece with basic information about clinical trials for those new to the subject matter and those who want a refresher.
We’re sharing a basic overview of clinical trials so you can brush up on your knowledge, get the truth about common misconceptions, and learn how to discuss clinical trials as a treatment option with your doctor.
What is a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are research studies that examine new investigational treatments or new combinations of treatments. Clinical trials play an important role in the development of new treatment options for pancreatic cancer. They are necessary to determine whether new treatments developed in the laboratory are beneficial to people living with pancreatic cancer.
How do they work?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors clinical trials to protect participants and the general public. The FDA reviews and analyzes data from successful clinical trials to determine whether an experimental treatment should be approved for a specific disease, such as pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer clinical trials may be carried out using either new investigational treatments or treatments already available for other conditions.
Since all cancers are different, a drug that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of one type of cancer may not be approved to treat pancreatic cancer. The drugs that are currently approved to treat pancreatic cancer were made available to patients after showing they work and are safe in clinical trials.
When an investigational drug or treatment enters the clinical trial process, it must pass through three phases of testing before becoming eligible for FDA approval. Only if it proves to be safe and promising at each phase, is it allowed to proceed to the next phase of testing.
Why are clinical trials important?
Clinical trials are the only way for researchers to make treatment progress and develop new treatment options for pancreatic cancer. For any pancreatic cancer therapy to be approved, it must pass through the clinical trial process mentioned above to ensure that it is safe and effective for patients with pancreatic cancer.
Clinical trials allow researchers to determine whether a new and potentially better investigational treatment is safe and beneficial for patients, and they provide patients the opportunity to receive a promising new investigational drug or treatment.
How can patients benefit from participating in clinical trials?
There are several ways, including:
- The possibility that the investigational drugs or treatment program used in the trial will be better than currently approved treatment options
- Care provided by top doctors and researchers at leading healthcare facilities
- Access to new investigational treatments or treatment strategies that may not otherwise be available
- Closer monitoring of the patient
- Helping to advance treatment of the disease
What are common concerns about clinical trials?
Some people assume that participating in a clinical trial is a scary process where doctors experiment on patients as if they were guinea pigs. In fact, being treated like a guinea pig is one of the common clinical trial misconceptions. Patient safety is a top priority in all clinical trials, and patients have rights that protect them.
Another myth is that some patients receive placebos, or “sugar pills,” in place of treatment. It’s critical to note that in cancer treatment clinical trials, patients will always receive either the investigational drug or the best-known standard treatment.
How can I find clinical trials?
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) Patient Central maintains the most comprehensive and up-to-date database of pancreatic cancer clinical trials taking place throughout the United States.
Information about these clinical trials is available to the public free-of-charge in two ways: You can contact Patient Central for personalized clinical trials searches based on each patient’s specific diagnosis including type and stage of pancreatic cancer, treatment history and geographical location. Or you can use our Clinical Trial Finder.
How should I discuss clinical trials with my doctor?
Bring your search results to your next doctor’s appointment. Let your doctor know why you are interested in clinical trials and what you are hoping to achieve. Ask questions and evaluate with your healthcare team whether a clinical trial is the right option for you.
Find more commonly asked questions about clinical trials and remember:
Pancreatic cancer patients who participate in clinical research have better outcomes. Every treatment available today was approved through a clinical trial. PanCAN strongly recommends clinical trials at diagnosis and during every treatment decision.