Clinical Trials Frequently Asked Questions

Cancer research studies—including clinical trials—improve how we prevent, find, and treat cancer. They have brought us the treatments we have today. Here are the answers to some of the questions you may have about joining a research study or clinical trial.

Are clinical trials safe?

Clinical trials have a strict set of policies and practices they must follow. Every clinical trial has a plan called a protocol. This protocol describes exactly what will happen in the study and why it is necessary.

Before a clinical trial begins, several groups of experts review the protocol to confirm its value for human participants and scientific discovery. The experts only approve a clinical trial if it meets rigorous safety requirements and the highest standards. Also, the US Food and Drug Administration reviews all trials involving investigational new drugs and devices. These expert groups can stop any clinical trial that does not meet the highest protocol standards. 

Participation in a clinical trial is completely voluntary. As a participant, you may choose to leave a study at any time—before the clinical trial starts or at any time during the trial.

Why join a clinical trial?

Clinical trials help advance treatment in different ways. They help doctors and scientists learn:

  • If a drug is effective in treating cancer.
  • If a drug already used to treat one kind of cancer will be effective in treating another kind of cancer.
  • What kind of diet or activities will help patients feel better.
  • What we can do to prevent cancer.
  • How we can keep cancer from coming back.

Does being in a clinical trial cost money?

You will not be charged more to participate in a clinical trial. Sometimes, patients even receive a stipend for participating in research. 

Does insurance cover the cost of a clinical trial?

You or your insurance provider may be asked to pay for any routine tests, treatments, or procedures that are part of standard cancer treatment. Your informed consent documents will outline which parts of the study are only for research and which are charged to you or your insurance company because they are part of the usual care you could receive, even if you decide not to be in a clinical trial.

In addition, your provider or research nurse will connect you with our oncology-trained financial counselor. This team member will contact you by phone or video call to review your insurance benefits and walk you through each step of submission for insurance reimbursement. You may also call 603-653-3637 to refer yourself to our financial counselor. 

Who can participate in a clinical trial?

Many factors define who may participate in a clinical trial. To answer a specific question about a new approach to cancer care, certain things are kept the same for all participants, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Medical history
  • Stage of cancer
  • Type of cancer

These common characteristics help researchers achieve accurate and meaningful results and may also minimize the risk of your condition becoming worse by participating in the study.

Where can I participate in a clinical trial?

Dartmouth Cancer Center has clinical trials underway at our Keene, Lebanon and Nashua, New Hampshire and St. Johnsbury, Vermont sites. To learn which trials are available at the site where you receive care, visit Find a Clinical Trial and search by location. 

What is informed consent, and why is it important?

The informed consent process gives you all the information you need to decide if you want to participate in a clinical trial that you are eligible for. A research nurse who is familiar with the trial will explain the purpose of the study, the tests and procedures involved, and the known possible risks, as well as benefits.

During this discussion, you will be 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.

What are the risks of 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 may be different than in laboratory studies.

The new therapy may not be better than the standard treatment patients receive outside the clinical trial or may have unexpected or different side effects. Clinical trials help highlight these differences. 

If the study compares different treatments, participants are often randomly assigned to one treatment or the other. Participants do not get to choose which treatment they receive. 

We encourage you to consider the costs of trial participation and determine what costs will be covered by your insurance or the study sponsor. An oncology-trained financial counselor is available by phone or video call to answer your questions about how services will be billed.

What are the different phases of clinical trials?

Treatments advance through several phases before they become widely available in the clinic.

  • Phase I trials test how safe a new treatment is.
  • Phase II trials test how well, or if, a treatment works.

These first 2 phases together are called early-phase clinical trials. Dartmouth Cancer Center has an Early Phase Clinical Trials Program focused on bringing these important and innovative clinical trials to our patients.

If treatments show promise during these early phases, they go through more phases to continue testing safety and effectiveness with more patients.

How can I get more information about clinical trials?

The following organizations provide general information about clinical trials:

To find clinical trials at Dartmouth Cancer Center that are currently enrolling patients, use our Find a Clinical Trial tool. You can search by cancer type, principal investigator, study number, or word or phrase.

Contact us

If you have questions or would like more information about cancer clinical trials, please call 603-653-3637 to speak with a cancer research nurse or email them directly at