Clinical Trials for Breast Cancer Treatment: A Step-by-Step Guide
Chances are, as you explore breast cancer treatments, someone will mention the possibility of joining a clinical trial. Your oncologist may recommend it, if she knows of one that might be appropriate, or family and friends who've battled cancer may suggest joining a trial. Trials are often worth considering when an oncologist doesn't think the standard treatments have a promising outcome -- or when you or the person in your care could participate while getting other treatment. But how do you find a trial that's right for you and your family, and what's involved in getting into one? Here's a step-by-step plan to take you through the process.
Gather the data you'll need for your search.
The oncologist you're seeing may know of and recommend a particular trial, but often this isn't the case. (And just because she doesn't recommend a trial doesn't mean there isn't a great one out there that's a good match.) Hundreds and hundreds of clinical trials are going on across the country at any given time, and oncologists can't keep up with all of them.
To find appropriate clinical trials, you'll be searching research databases, and you'll need certain information to do so. Start by collecting as much specific data about the diagnosis and prognosis as you can. Clinical trials are often limited to patients with a particular type of cancer, at a particular stage, that has been classified a certain way (operable versus inoperable, for example), so you'll need to know all that to begin your search. You'll also need the treatment history and details of other medical conditions for you or the person in your care, so keep those medical records nearby while you research.
One thing that's essential to consider: Some trials won't accept patients who've already received other treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy. This means you'll have the most options if you consider a clinical trial early on. Later on, your choices will be limited to trials aimed at patients who've already tried a particular therapy. If, initially, your doctor recommends a course of treatment but lets you know that it has a limited chance of success, that's the time to begin searching for a clinical trial that might offer treatment with a better possible outcome. If, on the other hand, the oncologist thinks there's a good chance of survival with immediate chemo or another such treatment, it may not be advisable to go with a clinical trial.