If you are diagnosed with an advanced-stage illness, one of the first topics you will likely research is treatment – what mainstream medicines are available, popular and effective therapies, and possible surgeries to fight the disease.
There may also be another course of treatment for consideration: clinical trials. “Clinical trials are studies in which people volunteer to test new drugs or devices,” according to the American Cancer Society. These trials provide valuable data to doctors and researchers in helping to determine whether a new treatment is effective and safe. They can also offer another treatment option for patients who may not be responding to more established methods.
Clinical trials are common in the realm of cancer, but are not limited to this disease alone. There are clinical trials for congestive heart failure, diabetes, ALS, and many other illnesses. They may test “medical products, such as drugs or devices; procedures; or changes to participants’ behavior, such as diet,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Participating in a clinical trial — like any course of treatment — has its pros and cons. Here are five factors to consider when determining if a clinical trial is right for you:
As with any medical treatment, clinical trials can produce side effects in participants — but there is less known about the side effects stemming from clinical trials. “The new treatment may have unknown side effects or other risks, which may or may not be worse than those from existing treatments,” explains the American Cancer Society. “This is especially true of early phase trials.” Before signing up for a trial, speak with your doctor about what potential side effects you’ll be facing, and if you’re comfortable with them.
Treating an advanced-stage illness is often time consuming and can be physically draining. There are doctor visits, therapy sessions, and trips to the pharmacy. When participating in clinical trials, these time commitments usually increase – more doctor visits, additional testing, and perhaps travel to multiple healthcare facilities. Determine if your current health and lifestyle can accommodate these extra commitments.
Your health insurance provider may cover some or all of your clinical trial costs. “Insurers may not cover all of the costs of taking part in a clinical trial, but they usually cover the costs of what would normally be standard care,” explains the American Cancer Society. The National Cancer Institute elaborates: “Health plans are not required to cover the research costs of a clinical trial. Examples of these costs include extra blood tests or scans that are done purely for research purposes. Often, the trial sponsor will cover such costs.”
Placebos are inactive drugs, or “sugar pills.” By giving some clinical trial participants a placebo, researchers create a control group — that is, a group to compare the other participants to. “The use of placebos in cancer clinical trials is rare,” explains Cancer.Net. “When a placebo is used in a study, it is done with the full knowledge of the participants.”
Participating in a clinical trial is a big decision – it often means opening yourself up to potential risks and unknowns. Before participating, get a second opinion from a medical professional. It is typically a wise idea to consult with a few doctors to determine if they recommend participating in a clinical trial, taking the specific medical case into account.
These are just a handful of many important issues you should consider before participating in a clinical trial. For additional information, read FAQs by the American Cancer Society and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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