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Debunking Cancer Research and Clinical Trial Myths

May 19, 2023

A caring hands during a clinical trial.

Do you think clinical trials are just for new drugs? Are too risky? Treat people like guinea pigs? Those are just myths.

There are many misconceptions about cancer research and clinical trials that are holding people back from participating in and benefitting from advancements in cancer treatment and care.

Charles Farber, PhD, MD, an oncologist and medical director of Oncology Research Network Development for Atlantic Health System, believes that clinical trials are a crucial part of cancer research. “It’s how we advance the field and make progress,” he says.

To help debunk the top fallacies, Dr. Farber offers the following information about the truth behind cancer research and clinical trials:

Myth #1: Clinical trials are a last-ditch effort when nothing else works.

False. Clinical trials are an opportunity to refine and improve upon current treatment. For example, Atlantic Health recently completed a co-op trial for Hodgkin lymphoma, substituting one of the drugs used in the standard care “cocktail” and saw improved outcomes.

“Clinical trials are how we make what’s good even better,” says Dr. Farber.

Myth #2: Clinical trials are only available at big medical centers in major cities.

False. Bigger isn’t always better. Smaller community trials are often ahead of the big hospitals because they can open more quickly and address more novel techniques.

Case in point: Atlantic Health has conducted over 100 cutting-edge, state-of-the-art clinical trials to date.

Myth #3: Clinical trials only include drug trials.

False. While some do, many clinical trials focus on other aspects of cancer treatment such as radiation techniques and surgical methods.

Additionally, attention is now being given to supportive care. Atlantic Health is conducting trials that address different ways to reduce suffering and improve comfort, boost immune health, increase access to care and lessen financial burdens.

Myth #4: Clinical trials are risky and dangerous.

False. Before a clinical trial is opened, it is thoroughly vetted by the Institution Review Board, comprised of a team of independent doctors, pharmacists, PhD researchers, mental health professionals, statisticians, patient advocates and others. Their role is to ensure that every cancer trial is ethically sound and does not cause any undue risk for participants.

While some trials may present more risk than others, full disclosure is always provided. Participants are told upfront about all potential risks before giving consent – and they can withdraw from the trial at any time.

Myth #5: Clinical trials are unproven.

False. According to Dr. Farber, there’s always a scientific rationale behind a clinical trail – be it pre-trial research or lab results that show promise. “People aren’t being used as guinea pigs,” he assures.

Myth #6: You may be given a “sugar pill,” not real treatment.

False. Because every clinical trial must be ethical, participants will always receive the current standard of care as the bare minimum treatment.

If a placebo or so-called sugar pill is being used, it just means that you are only receiving the standard treatment, not the new drug or treatment (the focus of the trial) in addition to standard treatment.

Myth #7: Health insurance doesn’t cover the costs.

False. Your medical insurance must pay for the current standard of care, including routine tests and treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. You also cannot be denied coverage for participating in a trial; many states, including New Jersey, have laws that protect you against that.

Because sponsors fund trials, Dr. Farber says there are no extra out-of-pocket fees for trial participants. “By participating, you benefit from increased, cutting-edge care at no additional charge.”

Myth #8: Clinical trials are time-consuming and inconvenient.

True and False. Participating in a clinical trial is a commitment. It may require more office visits, testing or monitoring. But as Dr. Farber reminds us, progress isn’t always convenient.

“The patients who participate in clinical trials are rock stars,” says Dr. Farber “We are very grateful for their sacrifice because without them, we wouldn’t be able to move the needle.”

Clinical trials are critical to the development of new drugs and treatments. For cancer and other diseases without cures, clinical trials are the only scientific way to find better remedies and improve patient care. “It’s how we make progress towards a cure.”

  • Cancer Care