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Considering a clinical trial?

Picture yourself receiving the most advanced medical treatment from a team of specialists at one of the country’s finest hospitals and you have some idea of what a clinical trial is all about.

These trials are the last steps before a promising medicine or therapy receives approval. By participating in a trial, groups of patients have access to a potential wonder drug or revolutionary procedure years before the general public.

Into the unknown

Clinical trials have added three years to the average American’s life expectancy over the past half-century, researchers say. Yet, not enough people get involved. One study says just 3 percent of eligible patients enroll, and 85 percent don’t know about clinical trials at all.

Should you join a trial? There’s no clear-cut answer, and only you and your doctor can decide if the potential benefit outweighs certain risks. Factors to consider include:

  • Your health. You must be strong and well enough to handle any travel, tests and monitoring involved in clinical trials.
  • Your condition. You may have to stop taking your current medications to properly test the experimental ones, which could cause your present condition to worsen.
  • Your goals. You may be assigned to a group receiving a placebo (an ineffective sugar pill) for control purposes instead of the new medicine, which may not be in line with your reasons for enrolling.
  • Your finances. Not every trial reimburses participants, and some will only repay a portion of your costs, so you may have to pay the rest. In addition, some health plans provide benefits to clinical trial enrollees; others don’t.

Finding out more

You can find out if any clinical trials are proposed for your area by logging on to the National Library of Medicine’s Web site,

Hundreds of clinical trials take place every day, and though some involve risks, these trials are invaluable—and can be personally very rewarding.