Treating Melanoma Through Clinical Trials
All treatments that are available today have been discovered through clinical trials. Clinical trials are often viewed as the best treatment option for Stage II, III and IV melanoma patients, so it is important to learn about trials so you make an informed treatment decision. All treatment options, including clinical trials, should be thoroughly discussed with your melanoma team.
What is a Clinical Trial?
Clinical research studies help find new ways to treat, prevent and diagnose diseases. A clinical trial is carefully designed to closely monitor people’s progress as they go through treatment with an investigational drug, product, device or method of treatment that has not been approved by the FDA. Today, all medications prescribed by a doctor must first be tested in clinical trials. Study participants receive close medical supervision and provide valuable feedback on their experiences.
All treatments must go through three phases of research before becoming available to the public:
- Phase I focuses primarily on safety in a small number of human volunteers
- Phase II tests the effectiveness of the new drug on a small number of human volunteers
- Phase III usually tests the new drug in comparison with the standard therapy currently being used on a larger number of human volunteers
Participating in a clinical trial is voluntary and participants may choose to discontinue participation at any time.
Finding Melanoma Clinical Trials
There are many ways you can learn more about available clinical trials, which centers of excellence are participating in clinical trials, and how to enroll in a trials; however, two of the easiest are noted below:
1. The MRF’s Clinical Trial Finder, hosted through our partner, EmergingMed, can provide you with a free, confidential, personalized service that helps you understand which trials may be an option for you. For best results, we recommend that you register and complete the profile information. This helps ensure you learn of the best possible trials for you.
2. The NIH hosts a world-wide clinical trial database provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Be specific in your search terms to find the most helpful results.
Reasons to Consider a Clinical Trial
There are a number of reasons you or your doctor may want to consider participation in a clinical trial, including:
- Access to investigational treatments before they become widely available
- Opportunity to play a role in the discovery of treatments, cures and preventions for certain diseases or medical conditions
- Ability to play a more active role in your own healthcare
- Access to free physical examinations and diagnostic tests related to the study
Patient Safety in Clinical Trials
All clinical research studies in the United States are reviewed by the FDA and governing bodies called institutional review boards (IRBs), whose job is to make sure participants’ rights are fully protected and that participants are not exposed to any unnecessary risks.
As noted earlier, participating in a clinical trial is voluntary. Before you enroll in a trial, a doctor or nurse will clearly explain the study procedures and requirements. This is called informed consent. Doctors are not allowed to enroll patients in clinical trials without first ensuring they understand what their involvement in the trial means. Once you enroll, you may end your participation at any time.
Questions to Ask your Physician
It is important to feel comfortable with your treatment decision. Before enrolling in a trial, some topics to discuss with your doctor may include: the study treatment(s), the logistics related to the study, the medication(s) you will be taking, your privacy rights, your medical team, possible risks and benefits, and possible costs. A detailed, thoughtful list of possible questions to consider are available on Cancer.net, an ASCO resource.