Patients & Families
Patients and Families
Clinical Trials Background

The search for better cancer treatments starts with research in the laboratory. Sometimes this research involves animal studies or live human cells in test tubes. This work starts pointing researchers in the right direction in exploring new treatments, but it is only through clinical trials that data is collected about which treatments are safest and most effective.

During a clinical trial, information is gathered about:

• How a treatment affects patients.
• How safe the new treatment is (side effects and/or risks).
• How well the treatment works against the cancer.
• Whether the new treatment is better than the standard  treatments for that type of cancer.
• New cancer treatments must prove to be safe and effective for a certain number of patients before they can be made widely available. Most of today’s treatments for cancer were once part of a clinical trial.

All hospitals in Nova Scotia and across North America have rules to protect patients who take part in any kind of research. Research Ethics Boards review all research proposals, and also review the forms patients are asked to sign before they take part in a clinical trial. These forms provide patients with all the important information about the trial, such as the trial’s purpose, risks, benefits and procedures.

One doctor or team of doctors will head a study locally. The main doctor is called the Principal Investigator. A research coordinator works with the doctor to make sure the study runs smoothly.

Ideally, every patient seen at a cancer centre in Nova Scotia should be asked if they want to take part in a clinical trial. In reality, and for a number of different reasons, very few adults actually take part in trials. This is partly because there are not always trials available in Nova Scotia for every type of adult cancer. As well, for research and safety reasons, there are very strict rules about who can participate in a trial and some patients are not allowed to participate even if they would otherwise like to. Sometimes, clinical trials are limited to a single hospital or cancer centre, and the treatment must be given where the investigator and the clinical trial team work, which can make participation more difficult for patients. Finally, some patients simply feel that a clinical trial is not for them.

Clinical Trials
More information on clinical trials available in Nova Scotia is available from the Canadian Cancer Trials website.