Treatments & Services

Understanding Clinical Trials

What is a cancer clinical trial? Why participate in a clinical trial? How are clinical trials conducted? How does a clinical trial work?

All of these are questions that you may be asking if you're considering participating in a cancer research clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies conducted with people who volunteer to participate in the testing of new cancer treatment therapies. These studies often lead to the development of better therapies for cancer treatment.

What is the purpose of a cancer clinical trial?

Clinical trials are a critical component in expanding treatment options for people with all types of cancer. Because all new therapies must be evaluated through clinical trials, the greater the number of people who participate, the faster emerging anticancer therapies can be brought to patients. Clinical trials are also important because they offer hope to people with cancer by providing access to promising new therapies not yet available outside the study.

How do clinical trials work?

Clinical trials are designed by cancer doctors and researchers, and they are conducted according to strict scientific and ethical principles. Before a cancer research study begins, a protocol is developed describing what will be done in the study, how it will be conducted and why each part of the study is necessary. This research protocol is reviewed by third-party experts to make sure that study is conducted fairly and that patients are well-informed of their rights.  Each study has eligibility criteria regarding who can or cannot participate in the study, which may include the type of cancer, age, gender, medical history, and current health status.

Who participates in a clinical trial?

Patients considering participation in a clinical trial will receive important facts about the study’s purpose and what is involved, such as the tests and other procedures used, and the possible risks and benefits of clinical trials. Should a patient decide to participate, he or she will be asked to sign a written consent form that outlines the details of the study prior to beginning the clinical trial. However, participation in the trial is completely voluntary and patients may stop at any time.

If you would like more information, you may speak to a Virginia Oncology Associates physician about our available cancer research clinical trials, or visit our frequently asked questions page.