Clinical Trials for Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on March 26, 2024
4 min read

When non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) spreads to other parts of your body, you may want to think about joining a clinical trial. It's a way for you to try a new treatment that isn't available to everyone. It might work better than the one you use now.

Before you join a clinical trial, check with your doctor to make sure it's a good fit for you. And learn all you can about the treatment that's being tested.

Some clinical trials test new drugs, surgeries, devices, or new combinations of treatments to see if they work and are safe to use. Other trials look for ways to help people manage pain, nausea, breathing problems, and other effects of lung cancer.

Clinical trials can be done in a:

  • Hospital
  • Doctor's office
  • Cancer center
  • University medical center


A clinical trial can give you a chance to try a new drug or other treatment before it's been approved by the FDA. By taking part in a study, you also help doctors discover new treatments that could one day help other people with NSCLC that has spread -- which doctors call "metastatic."

Trials are done in steps, called phases, that work like this:

Phase 1. Usually has 15 to 30 people and lasts for a few months to a year. These trials help researchers learn whether the treatment is safe and how it affects the body.

Phase 2. This involves a larger group of people. The goal is to find out whether the treatment works.

Phase 3. There can be thousands of people taking part in these trials. They compare the new treatment with ones that are used now for metastatic NSCLC.

Many clinical trials will pay for the tests and treatments used in the trial. You might also get money to cover travel and hotel costs if the study is far from your home. In some cases, your health insurance may cover medical costs related to a clinical trial.

After you join, you'll get assigned to a group so the researchers can compare one treatment with another. You may not be told which treatment you're getting.

Sometimes researchers compare a fake treatment -- called a placebo -- with a real one. In a cancer trial, you will likely get either the new treatment or the best standard treatment for NSCLC.

Clinical trials can have some risks. Some things you should think about before you join:

  • The new treatment might not work for you or as well as the current treatment for NSCLC.
  • You may need to have extra tests, which could have risks.
  • The treatment could cause side effects.
  • The trial might not pay for all of your treatment costs, and your health insurance may not cover the rest.


Researchers are always studying a variety of types of treatments. Your trial may be checking things like:

  • New combinations of chemotherapy to see if they work better and are safer than drugs in use today
  • Tests that help predict which treatments will work best for people with certain genes or other changes in their cancer cells
  • Targeted therapies that go after substances that help cancer cells grow
  • Treatments like checkpoint inhibitors that block substances cancer cells use to hide from the immune system -- your body's defense against germs
  • Vaccines to help treat cancer


Think carefully about the pros and cons of the trial, and make sure you understand what you're getting yourself into. Ask the person running the trial:

  • What are the researchers trying to find out?
  • What kinds of tests, medicines, surgery, or other treatments will I get?
  • How could this treatment help my cancer?
  • What are the side effects or risks of the new treatment?
  • Who will look out for problems and make sure I am safe?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Who will pay for my tests and treatments?
  • Will my insurance pay for any costs the trial doesn't cover?
  • What will happen after the clinical trial ends?

You'll need to sign an informed consent form before you join the study. This form:

  • Explains how the new treatment differs from standard treatment for NSCLC
  • Describes all of the doctor visits, tests, and treatments you'll receive during the study
  • Lists all the possible risks of the new treatment

If you want to drop out of the trial, you're allowed to do it any time. For example, you can leave if the treatment doesn't shrink your cancer or you have side effects that you aren't able to put up with.

If you would like to take part in a clinical trial, the first step is to talk with your doctor. You can also find clinical trials if you visit the website of the National Cancer Institute (