Participating in Clinical Trials

Risks and Benefits

You may ask yourself, "Why should I join a clinical trial? Should I try something that hasn't been approved?" Asking questions is good because there are always some risks in joining a trial, but there may be benefits too.

Possible Benefits

Here are some possible benefits in joining a clinical trial.

  • Your participation may help others get a better treatment for their disease in the future and allow researchers to learn more about how diseases can be prevented, identified, or managed.
  • If the treatment being studied is more effective than the standard treatment, you may be among the first to benefit.
  • Researchers, doctors, and other health care professionals may check your physical condition frequently, giving you regular, careful medical attention, because they need data to make comparisons in a trial.
  • It may be a way to get an experimental treatment for a life threatening illness that is not available to people outside of a clinical trial.

Possible Risks

Here are some possible risks in joining a clinical trial.

  • You may experience unpleasant, serious, or even life-threatening side effects.
  • You may not get the experimental treatment, but a standard treatment or a placebo instead.
  • The experimental may not work or it may not be better or even as good as the standard treatment for your condition.
  • You may be required to make more visits to the doctor than if you were receiving standard treatment. You may have extra expenses related to these extra visits, such as travel and childcare costs.
  • You may need extra tests. Some of the tests could be uncomfortable or time consuming.
  • Even if a new treatment has benefits in some patients, it may not work for you.
  • Health insurance may not cover all patient care costs in a trial.

Keep in mind that a few people have increased their risk of getting another condition during experimental drug trials.

For example, while testing the arthritis drug Vioxx as a treatment for colorectal polyps, researchers discovered that the drug increased the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. The drug has been taken off the market.