Clinical trials: 5 things you should know

Clinical trials are at the core of MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer. They’re how we discover new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Through volunteer patient participants, we can find new drugs and treatment procedures that may benefit current and future patients. They give patients access to cutting-edge treatments that are sometimes offered at discount through a sponsor. To better understand clinical trials and to dispel some misconceptions, we spoke with Patrick Hwu, M.D., division head of Cancer Medicine. Here are five things he wants you to know about clinical trials. Clinical trials occur in phases There are four phases of clinical trials, and each has its own goal. Phase I clinical trials are the first time a new drug is tested in human beings. We’re trying to find the safest dosage and also which cancer types respond. Phase II clinical trials focus on a specific cancer type and examine how it responds to the experimental drug or procedure. Phase III clinical trials test whether a new treatment is better than the standard care. At this point, the drug or procedure goes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, but the trial isn’t done. A fourth phase (Phase IV trials) reviews the new treatment’s long-term benefits and side effects. Although a treatment moves through the phases, a patient does not. Clinical trials don’t just examine new drugs Although many clinical trials study new medicines, some study new ways to dispense treatment, explore a new dosage or test a drug’s success in treating different cancer types. Clinical trials don’t limit your access to other care If...