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Research - clinical trials for lung cancer

Cancer research trials are carried out to try to find new and better treatments for cancer. Trials carried out on patients are known as clinical trials.

Clinical trials may be carried out to:

  • test new treatments, such as new chemotherapy drugs, gene therapy or cancer vaccines
  • look at new combinations of existing treatments, or change the way they are given, in order to make them more effective or to reduce side effects
  • compare the effectiveness of drugs used for symptom control
  • find out how cancer treatments work
  • see which treatments are the most cost-effective.

Trials are the only reliable way to find out if a different operation, type of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or other treatment is better than what is already available.

Types of trials

There are different phases of research trial:

Phase 1 trials are used when a drug is first being given to people. Their cancer will have spread or come back and they will have had all the treatments available to them. Only a few people will be involved in a phase 1 trial and the aim is to see what effect the drug has, what the dose might be and whether it helps treat the cancer.

Phase 2 trials involve more people. They look at how many people the treatment helps and what types of cancer the treatment is effective for.

Phase 3 trials are large studies and look at a number of things such as whether a newer treatment may be better than the current standard treatment or whether it might have less side effects. Phase 3 trials always involve randomisation so a computer chooses which treatment you have. It may be a number of years before results are available.

Taking part in a trial

You may be asked to take part in a treatment research trial. There can be many benefits in doing this. Trials help to improve knowledge about cancer and the development of new treatments. You will also be carefully monitored during and after the study. Usually, several hospitals around the country take part in these trials.

It is important to bear in mind that some treatments that look promising at first are often later found not to be as good as existing treatments, or to have side effects that outweigh the benefits.

If you decide not to take part in a trial your decision will be respected and you do not have to give a reason. Hospital staff will not behave any differently towards you. You will be offered or continue with the standard treatment for your situation.

Blood and tumour samples

Many blood samples, and bone marrow or tumour biopsies, may be taken to find out what is wrong with you. You may be asked for your permission to use some of your samples for research into cancer. Some samples may be frozen and stored for future use, when new research techniques become available.

The research may be carried out at the hospital where you are treated, or it may be at another hospital. This type of research takes a long time, so you are unlikely to hear the results. The samples will, however, be used to increase knowledge about the causes of cancer and its treatment. This research will, hopefully, improve the outlook for future patients.

Current research

There are trials looking at giving chemotherapy either before or with radiotherapy. Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiotherapy is called concomitant chemotherapy. Other studies are looking at different doses of chemotherapy drugs and the use of chemotherapy with CHART (Continuous Hyperfractionated Accelerated Radiotherapy).

The process of clinical trials is described in more detail in our booklet on cancer research trials.