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What are Clinical Trials and Why are they Important?

A clinical trial is an organized research study designed to investigate new methods of preventing, detecting, diagnosing, or treating an illness or disease, such as cancer. In some instances, clinical trials attempt to improve a patient’s quality of life. When studying cancer treatment, researchers generally attempt to determine whether a new method of treatment is superior to the standard (currently approved) treatment of the disease. Clinical trials are extremely important in discovering new techniques to fight disease. For example, many of the advances in breast and colon cancer detection and treatment resulted from clinical trials. These advances include:

  • Screening mammography
  • The use of chemotherapy before and after breast cancer and following colon cancer surgery
  • The use of radiation after lumpectomy and after rectal surgery
  • Most cancer treatment drugs (tamoxifen, Herceptin, Oxaliplatin, etc)

Despite the importance of clinical trials to both patients and researchers, a recent survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) shows that only 2% to 3% of adult patients participate in clinical trials. Comparatively, 60% to 70% of children with cancer are enrolled in trials. Of the 6,000 adult cancer patients surveyed by the ASCO, 84% said they were unaware of trials or unsure they would qualify for participation in a trial.

For more information about clinical trials, please visit the NCI (National Cancer Institute) website. "Clinical Trials: Questions and Answers"



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Last Updated: 29-DEC-2009