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Ask the expert: Why do people participate in clinical trials?

Debra Herzan, R.N., B.S.N., has been working with cancer clinical trials for almost 25 years.

The primary reason people give me is that it will help their children and future generations. They also need to get treatment for their cancer, and it may help them. Many people recognize the seriousness of their situation and know that a clinical trial might be the best option.

What are some common questions participants ask about clinical trials?

“Is it going to work?” They’re nervous about their cancer. It’s never out of their mind. Another question is, “Am I a guinea pig?” I explain that we’re going to treat them in their best interest. If something happens in the course of the trial that is no longer in their best interest, we’ll recommend that they stop or we’ll discontinue the trial

What do you tell people who are thinking about enrolling in a clinical trial?

I always stress that this is voluntary, but it gives them the opportunity to receive potentially leading-edge treatment. They can decide not to be on the study. Five months into it, they can change their mind and withdraw their consent. For people who aren’t eligible to participate in a trial, I let them know there are other options.

The biggest misconception is that if you’re on a trial, you don’t have to pay for anything. Most clinical trial expenses are covered by insurance or the sponsor of the study, but patients are responsible for their deductibles and copays.

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