How to Find a Clinical Trial for Cancer Treatment

Last Updated: October 2, 2019

Communicating with your cancer specialist is the first step in finding a clinical trial, which is a medical research study involving volunteers. Medical oncologist Dr. Ezra Cohen offers four steps for patients when considering clinical trials and shares resources for finding trials for cancer treatment.   

More Information

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Questions to Ask About Clinical Trials

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ASCO Answers Clinical Trials Fact Sheet

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

How to Find a Clinical Trial for Cancer Treatment

Voiceover: A clinical trial is a medical research study that involves volunteers and helps doctors find better treatments for cancer. Clinical trials can offer people with cancer additional options for their treatment, and it is important to talk about both the potential benefits and risks of each study with your doctor and the study’s research team. Clinical trials are used for all types and stages of cancer.

Ezra Cohen, MD; Medical Oncologist; Member, American Socity of Clinical Oncology: When patients are seeing their physician to begin to think about how to best treat their cancer, one of the first things that they should think about, really, are clinical trials.

In today’s clinical trial environment, the studies are there to help patients and provide the most innovative therapy. And in fact, there are data now to demonstrate that patients that are going on clinical trials actually do better than ones that don't get treated on a clinical trial.

Voiceover: There are many resources available to help you find clinical trials that you may be able to take part in. Talking first with your cancer specialist is a good place to start.

Dr. Cohen: There is sometimes so much information out there that it’s hard to coalesce it and really bring it into something that’s understandable for the individual. The best place and usually the first place to start is by asking their medical oncologist, "Are there clinical trials that I am eligible for?"

Voiceover: Many online resources are also available for patients to research which clinical trials may be right for them. The search for a clinical trial should be a partnership between the patient and their oncologist.

Dr. Cohen: A patient may go on a website, enter a few search criteria and find a list of clinical trials that may be applicable to their situation. That would be a great time to go back to their physician and say, "Hey, this is what I found, what makes sense for me? What drugs are you seeing? What do you think might be the best option?"

And their medical oncologist can help them sort through it. And so it becomes really a back and forth relationship where the patient becomes their best advocate and their medical oncologist really aids in that process.

Voiceover: Clinical trials follow strict rules in order to keep patients safe, structure the research, and study the effects of new treatments. It is important for patients to understand that each clinical trial has specific criteria, and that they may not be eligible for certain trials.

Dr. Cohen: We have to understand that clinical trials are essentially a set of rules. And, unfortunately, their oncologist or the investigator doesn’t have the liberty to break those rules. And sometimes those rules include specific types of patients with different prior therapies or different locations of their disease, etc., etc., where the clinical trial is looking for a patient population that might be specific and, unfortunately, the patient may not fit into it.

Voiceover: If a patient is not eligible for a certain clinical trial, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t another clinical trial that is suited for them.

Dr. Cohen: What I encourage patients to do is think about clinical trials, talk to their physician about clinical trials. Go into the process with the knowledge that they may not be eligible for every clinical trial that looks attractive. Not to get frustrated and continue to think about it throughout their entire treatment process. Even after they’ve been treated for their cancer, there are a lot of different studies that are looking at survivorship or other issues in patients.

Advice to Patients About Clinical Trials

  • Consider clinical trials.

  • Talk to your physician.

  • Realize you may not be eligible for every clinical trial.

  • Continue to consider clinical trials for the future.

Dr. Cohen: There are several internet sites that are excellent—Cancer.Net is one of those sites. But in addition to that, there’s But I’d also go to the local cancer center website and most NCI Designated Cancer Centers now will have a specific area on their website that’s dedicated to clinical trials.


Voiceover: For more information on what clinical trials are, things to consider in treatment decision-making, and how to find a clinical trial that may be right for you, patients and their loved ones can visit Cancer.Net/clinicaltrials.

Dr. Cohen: One of the best resources, quite honestly, for patients that are trying to navigate not only their disease, but for clinical trials, is Cancer.Net. It’s written in lay language so that it’s easy to understand. It also provides links to different clinical trials for that specific situation. And it can really help patients get through what sometimes can be a very confusing process. It is really set up with the patient in mind and to help them navigate the situation.

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

ASCO's patient education programs are supported by Conquer Cancer® The ASCO Foundation  

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