What is a Cancer Clinical Trial and a Common Misconception

04/08/2021 By Dr. Dan Platt

A clinical trial is a study performed to test the safety and effectiveness of a specific intervention used to treat a specific disease. The trial may test new drugs, already approved drugs that will be used in a new way (to treat a different disease, at a higher or lower dose, in combination with another medication, etc.), the impact of behavioral modification (exercise, nutrition, etc.), new diagnostic tools, or medical devices.

The primary goal of a clinical trial is to determine whether the benefits of a medication, such as its ability to stop the progression of a disease or relieve symptoms, outweigh the costs of the medication, including its side effects, when compared to the best available therapy, as judged by medical experts and previous clinical trials. As you can see, these studies build upon each other to improve our knowledge and enable us to better treat, manage, and prevent cancer and other diseases. It is not unfair to say that without clinical trials, medicine would not and could not improve.

As if that weren’t enough reason to enroll in a study, clinical trials give you access to the latest, cutting-edge treatments, and, because they are often sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, government, or universities, you get the medication free-of-charge!

Common misconception

Let’s dispel a persistent myth that still hangs over medical research: clinical trials are a last resort for people who have no other option, and are not for patients who are otherwise healthy.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

If you have been diagnosed with a disease, I would estimate that there is a 95% chance you qualify for a clinical study of some type. Yet, despite that fact, only 5% of cancer patients currently enroll in a trial.

Let’s review: Clinical trials provide the latest and best care at no cost and help to improve the treatment of disease for all future patients.

Why has no one told me this before?

Here’s where it gets tricky. Many patients are never made aware that they qualify for clinical trials by their doctors, and many more are put off by the perception of burdensome requirements or simply cannot figure out what trial makes the most sense for them to join or even what places are offering trials. This is not surprising! Our healthcare system puts the burden on the patient to figure all this out and correctly navigate a truly convoluted, complicated process. Until a better system is in place, you will need to advocate for yourself to get the best treatment possible.

So how do you do that, you ask?


You need the information so that you can make the best decision for your health. This resource is a good place to start.

In upcoming clinical trial resource posts, I will cover:

  • The basics of a cancer clinical trial
  • How to know if a clinical trial is right for you
  • What to do when you can qualify for a clinical trial
  • How to find clinical trials that are actively being recruited for

Deskside with Dr. Dan

“One small way I am personally contributing to education is through sharing my take on academic and industry articles, using my medical background to boil down the jargon and pull out the benefits of the news for you.”

– Dan Platt, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer

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