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Cancer Health Center

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How to Find the Best Cancer Treatment

Get answers to 10 commonly asked questions about clinical trials, where to get cancer treatment, and more.

I've heard that you can get cancer treatments that aren't available to anyone else through a clinical trial. Is this a good idea for me?

"Clinical trials are often a desirable option and worthy of consideration for many patients," Saltz says. Unfortunately, far too few people participate.

"Major cancer centers will usually tell you about trials that might be right for you, but if your community physician isn't directly involved in a particular trial, he can't offer it to you as an option to participate. Often, you have to educate yourself about what trials are available," Saltz says.

You can find out about trials that you may qualify for by calling the ACS's Helpline or searching the National Cancer Institute's clinical trials database.

What if I sign up for a clinical trial and I don't get any treatment at all, just a placebo?

That can never happen without your knowledge and consent. "A study must tell you, both verbally and in writing, exactly what the plan is. If there is a study that involves a placebo, it will be explained to you in detail," Saltz says. "There is never a possibility that the doctor will tell you you're getting something and you're getting something else."

Most clinical trials don't involve a placebo. Rather, you're "randomized" (placed at random) into one arm or the other of the trial, where you get either treatment A or treatment B.

"Sometimes, you may get a placebo in a trial where they're comparing the standard medication for a certain cancer to that medication plus the experimental drug," Saltz says. "We think the old drug plus the new drug might be even better than the old drug alone, but we don't know. In a trial like this, you'd definitely get the known drug either way, but you'd have a 50-50 chance of getting the new drug instead of an IV with sugar water. But you're still getting the standard of care for your cancer."

My friend had the same kind of cancer I have. Should I expect the same treatment, prognosis, and side effects?

Maybe not. Every person is different, so every cancer is different -- even those that seem on the surface to be exactly the same. "What was right for your friend might not be right for you, and what happened to your friend may not happen to you," Saltz says.

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