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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
November 15, 1999

Cancer? Now What? Why Consider Clinical Trials?
Deborah Collyar

A cancer diagnosis can cause overwhelming feelings of fear, loneliness, and a total loss of control. You feel immobilized and confused at a time when you must make some of the most important decisions of your life. Learning what you can do for yourself and for others can make all the difference in the world. It starts you down the road to healing.

Knowing what your options are may literally save your life. Understanding these options, however, can be a daunting task. Your options will most likely include something called a clinical trial.

The term clinical trial may sound a bit intimidating, but it is simply a research study that carefully tests new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat different cancers. These studies give critical information to preserve our health for both early and advanced cancer because there is still so much that isn't known about how cancer begins or develops.

Virtually all of the improvements in cancer care have occurred because of clinical trials. Past cancer research has helped people live longer, and with fewer side effects than before. Here are some active research areas and examples of progress:

Research Area Examples of Study Topics
How to prevent cancer Nutrition, exercise, environment, drugs
How to detect cancer early Blood tests, digital mammography
How to treat cancer more effectively New ways to perform surgery or give radiation
and chemotherapy, gene therapy, vaccines
How to treat side effects Anti-nausea drugs, acupuncture
How to prevent recurrences Drugs, diet, life-style choices
How to help patients live with cancer Support groups, mental imagery

There are advantages and disadvantages to participating in a clinical trial. Advantages might include receiving treatment that is not commercially available, undergoing more rigorous follow-up care, or experiencing treatment that is given in a more effective way than with standard therapies. Disadvantages might include more doctor visits, additional tests, or increased costs (although such costs are usually covered by the trial budget or by insurance).

You have probably begun to learn that there are no easy or right answers once you are diagnosed with cancer. Some doctors admit this and tell their patients about research studies that will help us find better answers. Other doctors just can't say they don't know the answer, and may tell you not to worry because s/he knows what is right for you. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, even for early stage cancers.

It is important for you to understand all of your options as you decide upon a treatment plan. So please ask your doctor(s) about clinical trials that might be right for you. Or call 1-800-4-CANCER for more information, and check out the web sites on Cancer Links  They might provide the best option for you.

Deborah Collyar
President, PAIR: Patient Advocates In Research 
Director, CTIP: Clinical Trials Information Project 
Director, San Francisco Advocacy Core, 
Cancer survivor

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