Q. Are there clinical trials for cancer treatments other than chemotherapy?

A.

Often times, people think clinical trials are limited to exploring ways of improving existing standard treatments such as chemotherapy. It is important to remember that there are other types of clinical trials, each designed to answer scientific questions in order to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose and manage a disease.

Prevention trials mostly involve people who have not had a history of cancer, although some are conducted with people who have had cancer and want to prevent a return of their disease or reduce the chance of developing a new type of cancer. Participants in a prevention trial may take a particular medication, vitamin or other supplement in order to see if they are effective preventive agents.

Screening trials include people who do not have any symptoms of cancer. These studies aim to determine whether finding cancer before it causes symptoms will decrease one’s chance of dying from the disease. Imaging studies are another significant area of research and help determine the value of imaging procedures for detecting, diagnosing, guiding, or monitoring the treatment of disease.

Supportive care trials include areas of research that are investigating new ways to improve the comfort and quality-of-life of cancer patients and cancer survivors. These studies look at ways to help people who may be experiencing side effects such as nausea, depression, pain or fatigue caused by their disease or its treatment.

Genetics trials focus on how one’s genetic makeup affects detection, diagnosis, or response to cancer treatment. Other genetics research-referred to as “population” or “family-based” genetic research will look at tissue or blood samples, generally from families or large groups of people, to find genetic changes that are associated with cancer. The goal of these studies is to help understand the role of genes in the development of cancer. Learn more about genetics.

Clinical trials of all types are the only method for advancing the practice of medicine, for increasing patients' options, for improving patient outcomes, for better addressing symptom management, as well as finding better and more targeted methods for preventing, detecting and/or treating cancer.

For more information on clinical trials, or to have a tailored clinical trial search done, please contact the NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) for personal, confidential help at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).