Patients may seek a new or experimental treatment by enrolling on a clinical trial. The only way to determine if a new treatment is safe and effective is to test it in a clinical trial. Most standard treatments for diseases were tested in clinical trials. Clinical trials are published in medical journals to help guide physicians when they treat patients.
Enrolling on a clinical trial may allow access to a new and better treatment. Clinical trials also help the future generation by validating new treatments, which may become the gold-standard in the future. Risks include the small possibility of inferior treatment, and unpredicted side effects. A patient is advised of the risks and benefits, and signs a consent form.
Clinical trials may put half the patients on a standard treatment, and the other half on an experimental treatment. Since both treatments are considered good, this is felt to be appropriate. When enough patients have enrolled, the trial closes, and no more patients may sign up. After patients are treated, their progress is monitored over months and years. Change in symptoms, disease remission, and worsening of disease are recorded. This data is collected and analyzed, then published in a medical journal. If patients on experimental treatment did better than patients on standard treatment, the experimental arm may become the new standard treatment for the next generation.
Clinical trials have shown that lumpectomy for breast cancer is as good as mastectomy, and that chemotherapy after surgery prevents relapse. Other trials have shown that mammograms and PAP smears save lives by detecting cancers in their early, curable stages. Clinical trials have also shown that control of hypertension reduces strokes, and that aspirin and cholesterol drugs reduce heart attacks. Without clinical trials, we would not have the safe, effective treatments for many diseases that we have today.
Clinical trials, if available, are an excellent treatment option. Many medical innovations are waiting to be tested in clinical trials, including thousands of new drugs for heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV.