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Frequently Asked Questions

Is one right for you?

A clinical trial is one of the final steps in a long and careful cancer research process that is looking for better ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. Clinical trials test new medical approaches in patients with cancer, and are important to developing new treatments for cancer. Many of the "standard treatments" that patients with cancer receive today were developed based on the results of previous clinical trials.

Are there benefits to participating in a clinical trial?

Clinical trial participants may have access to investigational drugs or experimental medical approaches. These may or may not be beneficial. Ultimately, people who take part in clinical trials contribute to future progress against cancer—helping to shape new approaches in the fight against cancer.

Are there risks in participating in a clinical trial?

A new treatment or medical approach becomes a clinical trial because it has shown strong promise in laboratory studies. Results in the clinic, however, may be different. The new therapy may not be better than the standard treatment or it may have unexpected or more difficult side effects. If the study is comparing different treatments, participants cannot choose which one they receive because they are randomly assigned to one treatment or the other. Also, patients should consider the costs of trial participation and determine what costs will be covered by their insurance or the study sponsor.

How are participants in clinical trials protected?

Clinical trials at Norris Cotton Cancer Center are conducted according to strict scientific and ethical principles. Every clinical trial has a plan, called a protocol, which describes what will happen in the study and why it is necessary.

Before a clinical trial begins, two committees review the protocol and approve it only if the clinical trial satisfies certain scientific and ethical standards. These committees are called Norris Cotton Cancer Center's Clinical Cancer Review Committee and the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects at Dartmouth College. The people on these committees evaluate the scientific basis for the clinical trial, the risks to participants, and the information provided to participants about the trial. They can stop a clinical trial that is not following the protocol or is causing unexpected harm to participants. They also can halt a clinical trial if the treatment being studied is very effective, in order to make it available sooner to patients who are not on the trial.

Finally, participants can choose to leave a study at any time—before the clinical trial starts or at any time over the course of the trial.

How will I know if I am eligible to participate in a clinical trial?

Eligibility criteria define who may participate in a clinical trial. In order to answer a specific question about a new approach to cancer care, variables such as age, gender, medical history, stage, and type of cancer need to be kept the same for all participants. Eligibility criteria define common characteristics, and help researchers achieve accurate and meaningful results. Eligibility criteria may also minimize the risk of a person's condition becoming worse by participating in the study.

If you have found a clinical trial you think you might qualify for, talk to your doctor to see if you qualify. You can also call our Cancer Help Line at (800) 639-6918 to speak with a cancer research nurse, or email the cancer research nurses at cancer.research.nurse@dartmouth.edu.

What is informed consent and why is it important?

The process of informed consent gives patients the information they need to decide if they want to participate in a clinical trial. In the informed consent process, a doctor or a research nurse will explain the purpose of the study, the tests and procedures involved, and the possible risks and benefits. During the informed consent process, you are encouraged to ask questions to be sure you understand all aspects of participation in the clinical trial. If you agree to participate, you will be asked to sign an informed consent document. You also may be asked to sign a new consent form as new benefits, risks, or side effects are discovered.

How can I get more information about clinical trials?

The following organizations provide general information about clinical trials online:

Brochures and videos are available in the reception areas for Hematology/Oncology (3K) and Radiation Oncology (2K) at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

In addition, you can search this website for clinical trials currently being conducted at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. You can search by cancer type, principal investigator, study number, or word or phrase.

You can also call our Cancer Help Line at (800) 639-6918 to speak with a cancer research nurse, or email the cancer research nurses at cancer.research.nurse@dartmouth.edu.

Or, talk to your doctor to find out if a clinical trial at Norris Cotton Cancer Center is right for you.