Clinical Trials for Unresectable Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on December 06, 2021
4 min read

If you have unresectable lung cancer, which means surgery isn't possible for you, you may want to think about joining a clinical trial. It's a type of study that tests new drugs and other treatments to see how well they work and what side effects they might cause. It might be an option for you if treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or radiation haven't slowed your disease.

A clinical trial can give you a chance to try a new therapy that isn't yet available to everyone else. By taking part in a study, you also help doctors discover treatments that could one day help other people who have lung cancer.

Researchers in clinical trials are trying to find new and better treatments, and improve the quality of life for people with lung cancer.

Some clinical trials test new drugs, surgeries, devices, or new combinations of current treatments to see if they're safe and work better than therapies that people use now. Other studies look for ways to ease pain, nausea, breathing problems, and other lung cancer symptoms.

Researchers do trials in steps, called phases. Each phase builds on the results of the one before it:

Phase 1. Researchers work with a small group of people to try to figure out if the new treatment is safe, and what dose to use. They also look at how the treatment affects the body and what side effects it causes.

Phase 2. These trials include a larger group of people. The goal is to find out whether the treatment slows tumor growth or has other benefits. Researchers also check for side effects.

Phase 3. Hundreds or even thousands of people take part in these trials. They compare the new treatment with standard lung cancer treatments to see which works best and is safest. If the results are good, the FDA might approve the new treatment for everyone.

You'll have to meet certain standards to get into a clinical trial. Whether you're allowed to join depends on things like:

  • Stage of your cancer
  • Your age
  • Which treatments you've already had
  • Other health conditions you have

You'll need to sign an informed consent form before you can join. It outlines the purpose, benefits, and risks of the study. It also describes the tests and treatments you'll get.

If you get into the trial, you'll be assigned to a group. Dividing participants into groups allows the researchers to compare the current treatment with the new one. You might not know which group you're in.

Sometimes studies test a new treatment against an inactive one, called a placebo. Cancer studies rarely use placebos. But if your study does include one, the researchers will tell you ahead of time.

You might decide to take part in a clinical trial if:

  • A new treatment might be better than ones that are approved for your cancer.
  • You've tried all current treatments for your cancer and they haven't worked.
  • You want to help researchers find treatments or cures for other people with unresectable lung cancer.


Treatments that are tested in clinical trials have not yet been approved by the FDA. There can be risks to joining a trial, like these:

  • The new treatment might not work for you.
  • You may need to have extra tests, which could have risks.
  • The new treatment could cause side effects.

Researchers carefully set up trials to lessen the risks to the people who take part. If you do have any problems, you have the right to quit at any time.

Many clinical trials will pay for the tests and treatments that are part of the study. You might also get money to cover travel and hotel costs if the trial is far from your home. Some trials will also pay for your time.

Ask upfront what care the trial covers. If the study won't pay for certain tests or treatments, find out if your insurance company will cover the costs.

Ask your doctor whether the study is a good fit for you. Learn all you can about the treatment that's being tested.

Make sure you understand what's involved in the clinical trial. Ask your doctor:

  • What is the goal of this study?
  • What kinds of tests, medicines, or other treatments will I get?
  • How might this treatment help my cancer?
  • What side effects or risks might it cause?
  • How will you treat any side effects if I have them?
  • Who will look out for problems and make sure that I'm safe?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Who will pay for my tests and treatments? Will my health insurance pay for any costs that aren't covered by the trial?
  • What will happen after the study ends?


Ask your doctor if they know of clinical trials for unresectable lung cancer. You can also visit one of these websites to search for trials in your area: