As a UC Irvine Health cancer patient, you may be eligible to take part in one of the many clinical trials underway at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. By participating in a clinical trial, patients have access to leading-edge treatments and therapies long before they are available to the general public.
The more you know about clinical trials, the better informed you will be when deciding whether to participate in a specific trial. Learn more about clinical trials below.
What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial is a medical research study in which patient volunteers test a new medical approach to determine whether it is safe and effective. Some clinical trials study a drug, a medical device or a new way of doing surgery. Others test new ways to prevent disease, diagnose cancer, improve quality of life or help people with cancer manage difficult psychological and social issues.
In a therapeutic clinical trial, patients receive either the standard of care — treatment that doctors agree is appropriate, accepted and widely used — or a new drug, procedure or device being studied.
During a clinical trial, more information is gathered about a new treatment, its risks and how well it may work. Patients who take part in cancer clinical trials also have an opportunity to help scientists learn more about cancer — how it grows, how it acts and what influences its growth and spread. Many of the approaches that doctors use to treat cancer today are available only because of clinical trials.
Cancer clinical trials differ according to their primary purpose. They include:
Treatment trials test the effectiveness of new therapies or new ways of using current treatments in people who have cancer. The trial may include new drugs or new combinations of existing drugs, new surgery or radiation therapy techniques, as well as vaccines or other treatments that stimulate a person’s immune system to fight cancer. Combinations of different treatment types may also be tested in such trials.
Prevention trials test new interventions (medicines, vitamins, minerals or other supplements) that may lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Most cancer prevention trials involve healthy people who have not had cancer; however, they often are designed for people whose risk of developing a specific type of cancer is higher than average.
Some cancer prevention trials involve people who have had cancer in the past; these trials test interventions that may help prevent the return (recurrence) of the original cancer or reduce the chance of developing a new type of cancer.
These trials test new ways of finding cancer early. When cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat and there may be a better chance of long-term survival. Cancer screening trials usually involve people who do not have any signs or symptoms of cancer. However, participation in these trials is often limited to people who have a higher than average risk of developing a certain type of cancer because they have a family history of that type of cancer or they have a history of exposure to cancer-causing substances (e.g., cigarette smoke).
These trials study new tests or procedures that may help identify, or diagnose, cancer more accurately. Diagnostic trials usually involve people who have some signs or symptoms of cancer.
Quality of life or supportive care
These trials focus on the comfort and quality of life of cancer patients and cancer survivors. New ways to decrease the number or severity of side effects of cancer or its treatment are often studied in these trials. How a specific type of cancer or its treatment affects a person’s everyday life may also be studied.
In addition to answering questions about the effectiveness of new interventions, clinical trials provide the opportunity for additional studies. These additional research studies, called correlative or ancillary studies, may use blood, tumor, or other tissue specimens (also known as “biospecimens”) obtained from trial participants before, during, or after treatment. For example, the molecular characteristics of tumor specimens collected during a trial might be analyzed to see if there is a relationship between the presence of a certain gene mutation or the amount of a specific protein and how trial participants responded to the treatment they received. Information obtained from these types of studies could lead to more accurate predictions about how individual patients will respond to certain cancer treatments, improved ways of finding cancer earlier, new methods of identifying people who have an increased risk of cancer, and new approaches to try to prevent cancer.
Clinical trial participants must give their permission before biospecimens obtained from them can be used for research purposes.
New interventions are often studied in a stepwise fashion, with each step representing a different “phase” in the clinical research process. These are highly regulated activities that allow researchers to pose questions that result in reliable information about the drug and protect patients. The following phases are used for cancer treatment trials:
We hope this guide will help you understand some of the basics of clinical trials.
Should you have any questions about clinical trials or trials offered, please contact us at The Sue and Ralph Stern Center for Cancer Clinical Trials and Research:
Toll free: 877-UC-STUDY
Additionally, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has an expansive website of information. NCI-Clinical Trials
Anyone considering a clinical trial should feel free to ask any questions or bring up any issues concerning the trial at any time. NCI has some suggestions of questions to ask your doctor that may give you various ideas as you think about your own questions.
Search our database of clinical trials at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center that are currently enrolling new participants.
Please note that our clinical trials information is updated periodically, so there is the potential that a trial listed as open on this site may not be open any longer. Similarly, there may be trials available in addition to those listed here. We recommend contacting the Clinical Trials toll free number at 877.UC.STUDY (877.827.8839) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm clinical trial availability and/or to get further information about specific trials.
Helpful resources, including a podcast, from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
Registry of all clinical trials — for cancer and other medical conditions — from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)