Should I Consider a Clinical Trial for Metastatic Melanoma?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 20, 2021
4 min read

It's natural to want the very latest treatments when you have a serious health condition like metastatic melanoma. One way to get those cutting-edge drugs is to sign up for a clinical trial.

Before you enroll, you'll want to learn all you can about the study, what's being tested, and the risks and benefits. Work with your doctor to get that information and make sure the trial is a good fit for you. But first, get to know what's involved.

Scientists look for new ways to treat metastatic melanoma in these studies. Some trials test new drugs, surgeries, and other methods to see if they're safe and if they work. Others look for ways to help people deal with pain, nausea, eating problems, depression, and other effects of cancer.

Through clinical trials, researchers test the effects of new medications on a group of volunteers with melanoma/skin cancer. Following a strict protocol and using carefully controlled conditions, researchers evaluate the investigational drugs under development and measure the ability of the new drug to treat the cancer, the safety of the new drug, and any possible side effects.

To take part in a clinical trial, you can visit a:

  • Hospital
  • Doctor's office
  • Cancer center
  • University medical center
  • Veterans' or military hospital

A “principal investigator,” usually a medical doctor, will lead the clinical trial. The research team might also include other doctors, nurses, social workers, scientists, and other health workers.

You’ll want to know what phase the study is in.

  • Phase 1 trials help doctors learn what dose of the treatment is safe and how it affects the body.
  • Phase 2 trials see if the treatment works to kill melanoma cells.
  • Phase 3 trials compare the new treatment with the current treatment for metastatic melanoma.

A clinical trial can give you early access to a new drug or other treatment. By taking part in a study, you also help doctors discover new treatments or cures that could one day help other people with metastatic melanoma.

Many clinical trials will pay for your:

  • Tests
  • Treatments
  • Medical care that is part of the study

You might also get money to pay for travel and hotel costs if the trial is far from your home.

Some patients with melanoma/skin cancer are reluctant to take part in clinical trials for fear of getting no treatment at all. This is simply not true. Patients with melanoma/skin cancer who participate in cancer clinical trials receive the most effective therapy available -- or they may receive treatments that are being evaluated for future use. These melanoma/skin cancer drugs may be even more effective than the current treatment.

There are also risks when you try an experimental treatment, including:

  • It might not work as well as the current treatment for metastatic melanoma.
  • The results might be better for some people than for you.
  • You may need to have extra tests as part of the study.
  • There might be side effects.
  • The trial might not pay for all of your treatment costs, and your health insurance may not cover the rest.

If you'd like to take part in a study, ask your doctor to help you find one that would be good for you.

You can also visit one of these websites to search for trials in your area:

  • TrialCheck. This website, developed by the nonprofit Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, is an unbiased cancer clinical trial matching and navigation service enabling patients to search for cancer trials based on disease and location.
  • National Cancer Institute. This website lists more than 6,000 cancer clinical trials and explains what to do when you find one that you think is right for you.
  • This website offers up-to-date information for locating federally and privately supported clinical trials for cancer.
  • CenterWatch. This website lists industry-sponsored clinical trials that are actively recruiting patients.

A doctor or nurse will tell you all about the clinical trial and what tests and treatments you can expect. This is called informed consent.

Joining a study is your choice. You have the right to leave the trial at any time and for any reason.

Researchers who do clinical trials must follow strict standards to keep patients safe. If they learn the treatment is not safe, they'll stop the trial or take you out of it.

Before you can join, the researchers will make sure you're a good match for the study. They'll look at:

  • The stage of your cancer
  • Your age
  • What treatments you've had in the past
  • Your health and medical history

Make sure you understand what is involved in the study. Ask your doctor:

  1. What is the purpose of this trial?
  2. What kinds of tests, medicines, surgery, or other treatments will I get?
  3. How might this treatment help my cancer?
  4. Which doctors or other staff will care for me?
  5. Which tests will I have?
  6. What side effects or risks could the treatment cause?
  7. Who will look out for problems and make sure I'm safe?
  8. How long will the trial last?
  9. Who will pay for my tests and treatments?
  10. Will my insurance pay for any costs the study doesn't cover?
  11. What will happen after the clinical trial?

You'll be assigned to a group so the researchers can compare one treatment with another. You may not be told which treatment you're getting. This is called "blinding."

Most studies will not give a fake treatment (placebo) to people with cancer. You'll likely get either a new treatment or the best standard treatment for your metastatic melanoma.