Clinical trials offer hope as they may provide you with the opportunity to receive innovative treatments not yet available to the general public.1 You may also consider enrolling in a clinical trial if you have limited treatment options or you have exhausted the existing ones for your medical conditions. For many people, the hope of finding a new treatment that can offer them relief and improve their quality of life is a glimmer of light during what can be a very difficult time.
While it is unknown if a drug, or combination of drugs, under investigation is superior to what is currently FDA approved to treat a specific type of cancer, trials offer hope. And while you may be interested in participating in a study, a number of strict inclusion and exclusion criteria need to be met before you can be enrolled in a trial. In this context, not meeting the eligibility criteria can sometimes be a measure put in place to protect the health and safety of individuals. However, being ineligible for one study does not mean that you will not qualify for another.
For example, there is a record of a young woman diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to her liver and lymph nodes. After undergoing chemotherapy and genetic testing, she enrolled in a clinical trial for a new medication targeting specific mutations in the cancer cells. Participation in this study contributed to her partial remission.2 Since then, she wrote a book about her experience to inspire others to seek alternative treatment options and remain hopeful. In another case, a person whose cancer had progressed despite participation in multiple trials finally obtained a complete response and held that response for years after participating in a clinical trial with immunotherapy.3
Despite the potential for favorable results, not everyone participating in clinical trials experiences positive outcomes. The effects depend on the person’s specific circumstances and, therefore, cannot be used to establish a general claim of treatment superiority. In certain instances, clinical trials are halted due to their failure to demonstrate superiority over the established standard of care. Even if a clinical study does not produce a positive outcome, research has shown that participation may offer indirect benefits from close monitoring of new symptoms that affect the trial participant’s quality of life.
While clinical trials offer hope, they also come with risks and burdens. We encourage you to collaborate with your healthcare providers to decide if a clinical study is appropriate for you.
- Engelbak Nielsen Z, Eriksson S, Schram Harsløf LB, et al. Are cancer patients better off if they participate in clinical trials? A mixed methods study. BMC Cancer. 2020;20:401.
- Wendler R. Pancreatic cancer patient in partial remission after experimental drug treatment. www.mdanderson.org/publications/annual-report/annual-report-2018/genetically-speaking-her-cancer-was-a-needle-in-a-haystack.html. April 6, 2023.
- Profusek P, Wood L, Shepard D, Grivas P. Rapid and durable complete response to atezolizumab, (anti-PD-L1), with sloughing of tumor tissue through urethra, in metastatic chemotherapy-resistant urothelial cancer (UC). Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer. 2016;4(suppl 1):P300. Poster Presentation.
About the Authors
Liliana K. Larsson, MSN, RN, OCN, CCRP, TTS, is a pancreatic nurse navigator at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.
Pam Profusek, RN, MS, is an oncology nurse educator with AstraZeneca and a member of the Clinical Trials Committee of AONN+.