What Are Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are research studies designed to answer scientific questions and discover better ways to prevent, diagnose or treat various diseases and conditions, including cancer. A clinical trial is one of the final stages of a long and careful cancer research process. Scientists begin by developing and testing new ideas in a laboratory. If an approach seems promising, the next step may be testing a treatment in animals to learn how it affects cancer in a living being, and whether it has harmful effects.

Treatments that work well in the lab or in animals, however, may not always work well in people. When the potential treatment is deemed safe enough to explore its effects on humans, it proceeds to be studied in a clinical trial. In the context of cancer, these trials are performed with cancer patients to learn whether promising treatments are safe and effective.

Clinical trials are divided into four phases:

  • Phase 1 – These studies are to find the same does of a drug, to decide how a potential new treatment should be given, or to see how a potential new treatment affect the human body and fights cancer.
  • Phase 2 – These studies are to determine if a potential new treatment has an effect on a certain cancer and to see how it affects the human body and fights cancer.
  • Phase 3 –Phase III studies compare a new potential treatment with the current standard treatment.
  • Phase 4 – Phase 4 studies study the long-term safety and effectiveness of new treatments.  They take place after the treatment has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is on the market.

For more information about clinical trials and why it is important to participate in clinical trials, please click on our brochure in English or Spanish.

To find a clinical trial at UI Cancer Center currently enrolling patients, please see the UI Cancer Clinical Trials Clinical Trials listing.

For more information about cancer clinical trials, please see the following resources:

National Cancer Institute (NCI), Clinical Trials Information for Patients and Caregivers

The American Cancer Society, Clinical Trials

Cancer Support Community, Cancer Clinical Trials

ClinicalTrials.gov clinical trials database

Men and women clinical trials doctors standing in a surgery room.