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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Are Clinical Trials Right for You?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Angela Jain

Scientists are looking for new ways to treat advanced breast cancer in clinical trials. These trials test new drugs to see if they are safe and if they work. They often are a way for people to try new medicine that isn't available to everyone. Your doctor can tell you if one of these trials might be a good fit for you.

Taking part can benefit you and other people. "It's very empowering for women, to help future generations of breast cancer patients," says Rita Nanda, MD, of the University of Chicago. "It's something that they can feel really good about."

Access to Cutting-Edge Treatments

Some trials test new drugs before the FDA approves them. Researchers only test those that show promise in the laboratory.

"Through a clinical trial, a patient may get access to a new medicine that could potentially be the next great drug," says Erica L. Mayer, MD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "A woman can get the treatment of tomorrow today. But some will not work as well as we hope."

Other trials check for drug side effects and dosages, test drugs that haven't been used together before, or check on how well radiation or surgery treat advanced breast cancer.


Special Attention From Health Care Professionals

Doctors, nurses, and researchers follow your health very closely during a clinical trial, says Sarat Chandarlapaty, MD, PhD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Often, you'll get extra support and information.

Extra Appointments or Treatments

Each trial is different. Get the details on what to expect before you sign up.

"A lot of studies are now including biopsies, which helps us learn a tremendous amount about how the drugs are working," says Elizabeth Mittendorf, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Most patients are willing to undergo these biopsies, but others are not."

You're probably familiar with biopsies from when you were diagnosed with breast cancer. A biopsy is a tiny sample of tissue from your tumor. Doctors or researchers can sometimes get that sample by using a very fine needle. In other cases, you may need surgery for doctors to get the biopsy.


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