Clinical Trials: How to Decide Whether a Clinical Trial Is Right for You

There is no simple answer to the question of whether or not to join a cancer clinical trial. The decision is a personal one that you should make after talking with your doctor.

The decision-making process usually begins with two key pieces of information:

  • Your complete medical diagnosis, including the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is
  • An honest assessment of your prognosis (in other words, if you are treated with the current standard therapy, how effective it is likely to be)

Enrollment in a clinical trial is always voluntary and you may withdraw at any time, for any reason.

How can I find clinical trials related to my cancer?

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's website lists clinical trials at the Center that are actively enrolling participants. You can either browse our clinical trials by cancer type or search for specific terms.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also maintains a database of studies in the United States and around the world that are open to new participants. Trained staff members at the NCI's Cancer Information Service (CIS) can also perform a personalized search if you are seeking a trial.

TrialCheck® is a searchable database created by the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups that contains more than 4,000 clinical trials. You do not have to register to use this search tool.

What questions should I ask my doctor before I decide whether to join a clinical trial?

Design of the Clinical Trial

  • What is the purpose of the clinical trial?
  • Why do researchers believe this new treatment might be effective?
  • Has this treatment been tested before?
  • Have there been other trials similar to this one? If yes, what were the results?
  • What kinds of patients will be in the clinical trial?
  • How many patients are needed for the clinical trial?
  • How long will my participation in the clinical trial last?
  • Will I find out about the results of the clinical trial?

Eligibility Requirements

  • Why do the researchers think that this clinical trial might help me?
  • What are my treatment options if I don't join this trial?
  • Are there other clinical trials that I might be eligible for?

Potential Benefits and Risks

  • How could this clinical trial help me if I join?
  • What are the possible risks?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?

Practical Concerns

  • What will I have to do if I join?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital?
  • Will I have to come to the hospital for treatments and tests? How often?
  • Will I have to change my daily activities or diet?
  • Who will be in charge of my care?
  • What type of long-term follow-up care is part of this study?
  • Who will pay for treatment?
  • If I have questions about the trial, whom can I contact?

What are the potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial?

  • You may gain access to new drugs and other treatments before they are widely available.
  • You will be monitored closely for any side effects.
  • You will have the chance to take an active role in your own healthcare.
  • You will be making a valuable contribution to cancer research.

What are the possible risks of participating in a clinical trial?

  • A clinical trial can sometimes require more time and medical attention than normal care. This can include doctor visits, phone calls, more treatments, a hospital stay, or a more complicated treatment regimen. (Ask your doctor for information about the trial you are considering.)
  • The treatment might not work, or might not work as well as standard treatment.
  • The new treatment might cause unpleasant or serious side effects.
  • Even if a new approach helps some patients, it might not help you.

Can I withdraw from a clinical trial?

Yes. Any participant can leave a clinical trial at any time for any reason. If you decide to withdraw, your healthcare team may ask to continue monitoring you for a certain length of time to look for any long-term effects of treatment.

What about insurance?

The sponsor of a clinical trial usually pays for all research-related costs in a clinical trial. The sponsor also usually pays for any special testing or extra doctor visits that the trial requires.

You or your insurance company may be asked to pay for any routine tests, treatments, or procedures that you would normally undergo for your disease. However, some health plans do not pay for these costs once you join a clinical trial.

Before joining a clinical trial, be sure to ask Memorial Sloan Kettering staff what fees may be charged to you or your insurance company. Confirm with your insurance company that it will cover these routine costs if you enroll in a trial. You can also check to see whether your state has a law or an agreement requiring such coverage.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center also has on-staff financial counselors who may be able to help you manage any insurance and financial issues related to clinical trials.

Can I talk to someone who has been a patient in a clinical trial?

Yes. If you are a Memorial Sloan Kettering patient who is wondering what clinical trials are like, our Patient-to-Patient Support Program can connect you with people like you who have taken part in medical research. Many patients find it helpful to speak with someone who has gone through a similar experience before deciding to participate. Often, you can arrange to speak with someone whose diagnosis closely matches your own

To contact a patient-to-patient volunteer, please call Volunteer Resources at 212-639-5007.