We’re starting a series on frequently asked questions about Kimmel Cancer Center clinical trials. This first question is the most basic: What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is research study that involves people to test new ways of preventing, diagnosing or treating cancer.  While many patients think that all clinical trials test experimental therapies, there are several kinds of clinical trials in which patients may be able to enroll, says Dina George Lansey, a nurse and clinical research recruitment specialist for the Kimmel Cancer Center.  “Treatment trials may include new drugs, vaccines or techniques for surgery or radiation. They may involve current standard treatments being used  in a new way or combine new and current standard treatments,” Lansey says. Even if cancer patients are not part of a treatment trial, “ patients they may be asked to participate in  other types of trials during treatment for their cancer. These might include research studies that seek to study ways to prevent cancer or learn more about side effects of cancer treatment, quality of life studies,” she explains.

It’s important to note that treatment trials “are done in a series of steps called phases. These steps help researchers figure out whether new treatments are safe, what side effects it causes,  if it is effective and if it is better than the current standard treatment.  It's a safety mechanism,” Lansey says. “At each phase, the results of the study are evaluated to determine whether it's safe to proceed to the next clinical trial phase.  This process is monitored very closely by those conducting the trials as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When all of the phases are completed, the FDA decides if the drug may be approved and marketed to the public.   “Clinical trials are opportunities for us to learn from cancer patients and for patients to contribute to the future care of others with cancer,” Lansey says.

Caregiver and blogger Dena Battle shared her thoughts about clinical trials on her blog, The Kidney Cancer Chronicles. I think you'll find that Dena's analogy of shoes and clinical trials makes a lot of sense, especially for those of us with a shoe fetish. Dena and her husband honed a very important skill of searching for clinical trials and asking questions of their medical team. We hope this blog series will help you learn more about clinical trials, and to help find the right size clinical trial for you, learn more about Kimmel Cancer Center research and search a database of ongoing trials.

Part 2: How is my safety as a patient protected?

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