There are lots of reasons you might want to think about joining a clinical trial, including a chance to try an experimental drug that can make a difference for your health now and for others in the future.
"Many men want to give back," says James Gulley, MD, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research. "They know that there are standard-of-care options available. But they want to do something not only to help themselves, but potentially to help many other men down the road."
No matter what phase your disease is in, you've got a lot of choices. "We have clinical trials for prevention, for men whose cancer is only being monitored, all the way to those who have metastatic cancer or a recurrence," Gulley says. "For every single area of prostate cancer, there is someone doing a clinical trial in that space."
To help you decide if it's right for you, think carefully about things like risks, how much time and effort is involved, and your current health.
Risks vs. Benefits
Before joining, look at how much a trial may help you and compare it to any potential harm. For instance:
- You could try a new treatment that you can't get anywhere else.
- The treatment might be better than what's available now.
- Your health will get checked closely by the research team.
- The study could teach scientists more about cancer and help many people.
- The treatment might not be as good as your regular therapy.
- You might get unexpected side effects that are worse than the ones caused by the treatment you get now.
- The treatment might not work for you.
Whether the risks outweigh the benefits depends on your situation and your goals. You might want to discuss both sides with your doctor and your family.
Your Personal Commitment
Clinical trials can require more doctor visits, procedures, and tests than the treatment you get now. Sometimes researchers add the experimental treatment to your current care, so you get both at the same time.
Some people take part in clinical trials at hospitals that aren't connected with their regular doctor. In this case, the research team might expect you to continue your current care with your own doctor. Or you might get all your care from the research team. This varies by study.
Jacob Vinson, CEO of Prostate Cancer Clinical Trial Consortium, says researchers do their best to coordinate the experimental treatment with your regular care, so there's as little inconvenience as possible. "That said, there are often additional tests, imaging, scans, or blood tests. Whenever possible, we integrate all of those into a routine visit."
Many people travel to other cities to participate in clinical trials. With the exception of the National Cancer Institute, few research centers cover travel expenses for participants.
Each trial has specific requests about your condition and previous treatment. For instance, some studies are only for men who had chemotherapy. Others may only accept men with cancer that has spread.
Clinical trials also may want to make sure your health is good enough that you have the strength to go through an experimental treatment.
"If somebody is confined to bed for more than 50% of normal waking hours because of symptoms of the disease, they are not going to be a candidate for most of our clinical trials," Gulley says. "If somebody is up and about for more than 50% of their waking hours and they're able to take care of themselves, then they're likely eligible for clinical studies."