Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Trials

Choosing to participate in a clinical trial is an important decision, with potential risks and benefits. Explore these frequently asked questions about cancer clinical trials offered at Mayo Clinic.

What is a clinical trial?

Cancer clinical trials study new cancer drugs or drug combinations, new medical procedures, new devices or surgical techniques, new ways to use existing treatments, and even lifestyle and behavior changes. Clinical trials provide access to potential treatments under investigation, giving options to people who otherwise may face limited choices.

What types of cancer clinical trials does Mayo Clinic offer?

We offer several types of clinical trials:

  • Quality of life. These trials focus on the comfort and quality of life of patients with cancer and survivors of cancer. They research new ways to minimize the side effects of cancer and its treatments.
  • Prevention. These trials explore ways to reduce the risk of developing cancer. They can include people who have not had cancer, those with higher risk, or those who have had cancer in the past. These trials might test lifestyle changes (such as exercising or quitting smoking), medicines, vaccines or vitamins.
  • Screening. These trials test new ways to detect cancer.
  • Genetics. These trials explore inherited family genes and traits that might affect your cancer risk or outcomes.
  • Treatment. These trials test new therapies, drugs, surgical approaches and integrative medicine, including wellness treatments such as massage and meditation.

Why are clinical trials important?

The more people who participate in clinical trials, the faster drugs, treatments and lifestyle changes can be tested and the quicker people can get better care. Clinical trials have many potential medical benefits, including:

  • Identifying effective treatments for future generations
  • Accelerating research for new and innovative cancer prevention and treatments
  • Lowering the cost of therapy through a better understanding of which patients may benefit from a specific type of therapy
  • Giving researchers more complete data

What are the benefits of participating in a clinical trial?

The benefits of participating in a clinical trial vary by person:

  • Participants gain earlier access to new treatment.
  • In many cases trials aren't a last resort — they may be the first choice for patients without other treatment options.
  • Participants often don't have to pay for experimental treatment or procedures.

What are the risks of participating in a clinical trial?

Mayo Clinic is committed to protecting you and your safety. Each clinical trial requires informed consent from the participant. This consent ensures that you understand key facts about a research study before you get involved. The risks are different for each trial. A clinical trial may:

  • Take extra time and effort
  • Have side effects
  • Not be effective

Are clinical trials safe?

Measures are in place to help ensure safety for participants:

  • All clinical research at Mayo Clinic is reviewed and approved by our Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is a committee of experts with various backgrounds. They review all parts of the clinical trial to ensure protection of your rights, privacy and welfare.
  • Other groups also monitor the safety and progress of clinical trials.
  • Federal rules help ensure that clinical research is done in a safe and ethical manner.

What questions should I ask about a clinical trial?

You should know as much as possible before agreeing to participate. Discuss questions with your health care provider, including:

  • What is the purpose?
  • Why might this study be right for me?
  • What tests or treatments are involved?
  • What are the benefits, risks or inconveniences?
  • Will I have to pay for anything or does my insurance cover participation?
  • How long will the study last?
  • What phase is the study? Learn more about clinical trial phases.

How do I join a clinical trial?

Talk to your doctor. Physicians have access to available clinical trials and can offer advice.

Who do I contact about joining a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic?

Hundreds of clinical trials are available at Mayo Clinic's three campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota and at Mayo Clinic Health System sites in the Midwest. In addition, our Early Cancer Therapeutics Group offers access to phase I cancer trials.

For more information about participating in cancer clinical trials at Mayo Clinic, contact:

  • Mayo Clinic Cancer Center
  • Clinical Trials Referral Office
  • 855-776-0015 (toll-free)