11/25/2015 11:22 EST | Updated 11/25/2016 05:12 EST

What You Need To Know About Clinical Trials And Cancer Treatment


"Would you like to join a clinical trial?"

For a patient with an ongoing treatment plan, hearing this question usually leads to an avalanche of other questions. From questions about safety, accessing newer treatments, to wondering about the benefit to your own treatment, exploring what clinical trials actually involve can help you determine if one is worth considering.

Having a conversation with your health care team is always the best source for information about whether joining a clinical trial is right for you.

These questions may help you start that conversation:

What is a clinical trial?

For starters, clinical trials help researchers and health care teams find new and better medical treatments. Results from a clinical trial might show there is a better way to administer cancer medication, or provide suggestions for improving patient care.

How does a clinical trial start, how are patients enrolled and who oversees the trial?

You may learn about a clinical trial when your doctor asks you to join one as part of your treatment, or when you ask your doctor about whether there's a trial you could participate in.

A clinical trial uses participants like you to evaluate the effect of interventions on health outcomes. While research may begin in the lab, that research must show promising results before moving forward into clinical trials, where people are involved.

In order to be an approved clinical trial, the trial must follow strict guidelines in order to protect your health, safety and privacy. These include:

  • Government and international policies
  • Support from the hospital
  • Review by a research ethics board
  • When applicable, review by Health Canada

During the trial period, there is ongoing regulatory oversight from Health Canada. The research ethics board will continue to be responsible for protecting your safety, rights and wellbeing.

Will I receive more, less or no treatment if I join a clinical trial?

You are, and will continue to be, a patient.

Clinical trials are designed to test new ways of treating, diagnosing or preventing cancer against the best available standard of treatment that is currently available.

At a minimum, you will receive the current best available standard of treatment. There is no guarantee that you will receive the newer treatment, and if you do, it is important to keep in mind that it may not be better than the current best standard.

Does my doctor get paid for my participation in a trial?

The doctor conducting the study you are participating in will not be paid by the drug company during a trial. However, he or she may receive funds from the sponsor to offset the costs of running a trial. A financial manager at Sunnybrook, not the doctor, manages sponsorship funds.

As a rule, if there is a financial conflict of interest for any doctor participating in the study, this must be reported to the Research Ethics Board. You also have the right to ask the doctor conducting the study you are participating in to provide additional details regarding any personal payments that may be received.

Do I have to participate?

No, participating in a clinical trial is a personal decision. It is unethical for a doctor or a trial staff member to persuade, give incentive or pressure you to participate. If your doctor asks you about participating in a clinical trial but you do not want to, there is no need to feel as though you are letting your doctor down.

The decision to participate is yours.

Where can I find more information and resources?

Your health care team can address any questions or concerns you may have about joining a clinical trial.

For more information:

Patient Education and Research Learning Centre (PEARL)

The PEARL is the Odette Cancer Centre's hub for patient education and offers numerous learning opportunities for patients and families.

Visit the PEARL, or contact them at or 416-480-4534.

Canadian Cancer Society - Clinical Trials

Contact the Canadian Cancer Society at 1-888-939-3333.

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is "a research institute dedicated to research on the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer."

Contact the OICR toll-free at 1-866-678-6427.

Canadian Cancer Trials search

Find a cancer clinical trial in Canada, created by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

Please visit the website for the relevant cancer society to your diagnosis, such as Prostate Cancer Canada or Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Most societies have sections on their websites dedicated to clinical trial information.

Written by Sunnybrook staff using resources from Canadian Cancer Society resources and Health Canada guidelines.

Read more health tips and information from Sunnybrook experts at


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