How do clinical trials help in the fight against cancer? By Margaret A. Ferreira – Research Program Director, Northside Hospital

Jun 12, 2018


By  – Research Program Director, Northside Hospital

Jun 1, 2018

Clinical trials play a very important role in the treatment of cancer, but they shouldn’t be considered only “when all else fails.”

As a patient and physician determine the best course of treatment, clinical trials should be discussed early in the conversation. Some trials evaluate a standard-of-care treatment with new drugs or are considered when traditional options are not available.

Clinical trials assist doctors and researchers in finding new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose or treat diseases. Each trial is carefully designed to test the effects of medications, medical treatments and/or devices with the goal to improve the quality of life for people during and after cancer treatment.

How cancer clinical trials are improving cancer treatment

We refer to different cancers collectively because they share one thing in common – the abnormal growth of cells. However, cancer is not one disease. It is a wide variety of different cancer types with many unique characteristics. Therefore, treating them all requires a constant stream of research and shared knowledge to continue fighting them. Clinical trials are essential to this effort.

Cancer clinical trials have resulted in new drugs and more effective treatments. Today, cancer patients are living longer lives because of this shared research. Moreover, the conduct of research is expanding and providing enhanced access to patients who may not have had such ease of access before

Many clinical trials are only offered at university hospitals, which are usually limited to metropolitan areas. In recent years, however, their availability has expanded to community hospitals. This is great news, because the majority of cancer patients receive their treatment close to home – at their local community hospital. It brings research to the patient.

This expanded availability means:

  • Convenience to patients. We are able to offer trials to patients without them having to travel long distances.
  • Patients can receive treatment with their oncologist.
  •  Increasing the availability of clinical trials to more patients can shorten the time it takes to bring a new drug to the market.
  • Providing access to clinical trials in a community setting helps move science forward, with the findings benefiting all patients.

Participation in clinical trials provides an opportunity to receive cutting-edge cancer therapy from a specialized group of doctors and nurses. You also gain access to advanced treatment options and techniques as they are evaluated for your condition, while results from the studies contribute to medical breakthroughs that could affect generations to come.  

As with any treatment, talk with your physician about the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial and make an informed decision. Consider the following questions in your discussion.

  • What is the purpose of this trial?
  • How will I receive treatment?
  • How long is the trial going to last?
  • What will I be asked to do?
  • Do I have to pay for any part of the trial?
  • Will my insurance cover these costs?
  • Will I be able to see my own doctor?
  • If the treatment works for me, can I keep using it after the trial?
  • Can someone find out if I am participating in a trial?
  • Will I receive any follow-up care after the trial has ended?
  • What will happen to my medical care if I stop participating in the trial?

In addition to the resources provided by your physician, you can access clinical trials available in your community by visiting

For more information about the research program at Northside Hospital, call 404-303-3355 or visit

Margaret Ferreira, RN, is research program director at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.