If you have ever thought about participating in a clinical trial, the best place to start is with your primary care doctor, even if he or she has not mentioned it before. It’s best to be frank in your discussion, and express the reasons why you feel a clinical trial is a good option for you.
Typically speaking, most people consider clinical trials when a treatment for their disease or condition isn't available or if the standard treatment hasn't worked. Clinical trials can offer hope for many people and an opportunity to help researchers find better treatments for people in the future, but they aren’t for everyone. There are many considerations before starting any clinical trial.
Your doctor might be familiar with clinical trials for an experimental or established drug or therapy, or he or she may refer you for a second opinion. In either instance, ask the doctor to discuss with you the benefits and risks of any clinical trial you are considering and whether you might be eligible to participate.
If you seek a second opinion, the best time is at a major decision point, typically before ever starting therapy or at progression before starting a new kind of treatment, says Dr. Jared Weiss, an assistant professor of Clinical Research for Hematology/Oncology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, and a member of Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education (GRACE).
“The very least productive time is right after starting a new line of treatment,” he says, because “unless the chosen regimen is truly terrible, most doctors will not recommend changing it until it has failed. Further, once the first drop of a regimen has been started for a given line of therapy, the patient becomes ineligible for clinical trials for that line.”
Some patients (and their doctors) wait to get a second opinion when they’ve run out of standard options, Dr. Weiss says.
“An academic doctor may have clinical trials that can offer treatment when no good FDA-approved options are left.