Are Clinical Trials Right for You?

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on June 22, 2020

Scientists look for new ways to treat advanced breast cancer in clinical trials. These studies 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.

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. Some, however, may not work as well as hoped.

Other studies test drugs that haven't been used together before, or check on how well radiation or surgery treat advanced breast cancer.

Clinical trials are divided into phases. In phase I, scientists test a treatment on a small group of people to learn about the safety, dosing, and side effects of the treatment. A phase II trial includes more people as the researchers look at safety and how well the treatment works. In phase III, the study will compare the new treatment with the standard treatments for advanced breast cancer.

Special Attention From Health Care Professionals

Doctors, nurses, and researchers follow your health very closely during a clinical trial. Often, you'll get extra support and information.

Your doctor will probably give you more tests to track how well the treatment is working. They'll also examine you to see whether you're having any side effects. 

What Else to Consider

You’ll want to know what exactly is involved, including:

  • Potential risks
  • What treatments you might get
  • How long the trial will last
  • How often you’ll need appointments
  • What your other responsibilities might be
  • What happens after the trial ends. For instance, if the treatment helps, will you still be able to get it once the trial is over?

Trials will provide “informed consent,” which is what you need to know before you sign up. If you have questions, you should feel free to ask them.

When Distance Matters

Most trials take place at academic medical centers, often in cities. If you live several hours away, you may still be able to take part.

Community cancer clinics near you may be part of a large trial. Others only require that you visit a medical center a few times.

If you need to travel, the medical center may help pay your costs or give you free housing while you’re away from home. Cancer support groups may offer grants for travel expenses. But you’ll want to find out about all of that in advance. If a trial sounds promising but it’s not convenient, ask your doctor or the trial’s organizers for advice.

How to Learn More

Talk to your doctor, or visit the web site. You can search for trials near you or those looking for people like you.

Show Sources


American Cancer Society: "The Basics of Clinical Trials," "What Are the Phases of Clinical Trials?" "Learn About Clinical Studies."

Living Beyond Breast Cancer: "Clinical Trials."

Rita Nanda, MD, associate director, breast cancer medical oncology program, assistant professor, University of Chicago.

Erica L. Mayer, MD, MPH, Dana-Farber Cancer; assistant professor, Harvard Medical School.

Richard J. Bleicher, MD, Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Sarat Chandarlapaty, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Elizabeth Mittendorf, MD, PhD, assistant professor, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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