Cancer Clinical Trials as a Treatment Option, with Mary Lou Smith, JD

Last Updated: July 19, 2018

Patient advocate Mary Lou Smith outlines what things to consider when a person with cancer is reviewing clinical trials (research studies) when making treatment plan decisions.

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Making Decisions About Cancer Treatment

Clinical Trials

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ASCO® Cancer.Net: Doctor-Approved Patient Information 

Clinical Trials as a Treatment Option

Mary Lou Smith, JD: A cancer clinical trial is a way of testing new approaches and how well they work in cancer patients. Standard of care is a treatment that experts have looked at and agree is appropriate, accepted, and well used to treat a particular type of cancer. So in clinical trials, a new drug is usually tested against the standard treatment or the standard of care.

Considering a Cancer Clinical Trial as a Treatment Option

Dr. Smith: I think there are three reasons that people should consider clinical trials as a treatment option. One, because it may help them find a more effective treatment for preventing the recurrence of their cancer or for treating their cancer. Two, because it's a way of helping future cancer patients. In fact, your children or your grandchilden may benefit from the fact that you participated in a clinical trial. And three, because in a clinical trial, they monitor your care very carefully according to a written protocol. So every test, every procedure, every dose of drug is provided to you according to a written plan and good clinical practice guidelines.

Talking With Your Doctor about Clinical Trials

Dr. Smith: I think it's important for a patient to consider talking to their doctor about clinical trials at the beginning of the treatment decision-making process, because for all of us who have had cancer, making that first treatment decision is very stressful and very hard to revisit. So if it isn't included in your beginning of your process, you probably won't want to revisit it, and therefore may lose the opportunity of taking a treatment that might be better for you. I think it's important for patients to ask their doctors questions, and to have them written on a sheet of paper, and to bring someone with them who can be their note taker. It's a very stressful time. It's very easy to be distracted when you're having the conversation, so to have somebody to be able to write down those answers and be able to discuss them with you later is exceedingly important.

I think it's important to ask your physician when looking at clinical trials, "What are the risks and benefits?" And it's important to weigh those risks and those benefits. And it's important to ask when you look at the risks, because many of those risks will be side effects of the treatment, to find out are there some ways that they are going to mitigate or help you deal with those side effects, and what types of side effects are they? Are they common? Are they uncommon? Are they actually very rare? And if then you can have a better idea of what the risk benefit trade-off is for you.

Where to Get More Information

Dr. Smith: It's important for patients to find good questions to ask their doctor during their treatment decision-making discussions. And there are a number of websites that have wonderful information available and good questions that you can use. The ASCO website Cancer.Net, the National Cancer Institute,, and the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups,, all are valuable and trusted resources.

[Closing and Credits]

Cancer.Net®: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

ASCO's patient education programs are supported by Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical  

Special Thanks:

Video Footage courtesy of:

Rosewell Park Cancer Institute

Fox Chase Cancer Center

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Special Thanks:

Carolyn B. Hendricks, MD

The Center for Breast Health

Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care Health System

The Adele R. Decof Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Miriam Hospital. The Miriam Hospital is a teaching hospital of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

The opinions expressed in the video do not necessarily reflect the views of ASCO or the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

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