Clinical trials are an important step in discovering new treatments for breast cancer and other diseases as well as new ways to detect, diagnose, and reduce the risk of disease. Clinical trials show researchers what does and doesn’t work in people. Clinical trials also help researchers and doctors decide if the side effects of a new treatment are acceptable when weighed against the benefits offered by the new treatment.
Researchers don't know what the results of clinical trials will be. (If they did, they wouldn't have to do the trials.) This uncertainty can make it hard to decide if you want to participate in clinical trial. In rare cases, clinical trial volunteers have been hurt by the treatment or procedure being tested. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people have been helped and are alive because other people chose to participate in a trial that resulted in a new, more effective treatment. While clinical trials are important, the choice to participate in one is very personal and depends on your unique situation. As with any breast cancer treatment, you and your doctor need to weigh the benefits against the risks and decide what's best for you.
Many of the studies reviewed in the Breastcancer.org Research News section are reports on clinical trials. All treatments for breast cancer — including Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), aromatase inhibitors, tamoxifen, radiation, and more — were studied in several clinical trials.
Clinical trials are just one type of research that's done before a new treatment becomes available to people. New medicines must first be discovered, purified, and tested in preclinical trials before researchers even think about clinical trials. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1,000 potential medicines are tested before one makes it to clinical trials. On average, a new medicine to treat breast cancer has been studied for at least 6 years (and sometimes many more) before a clinical trial on it is started.