Treatment

Clinical trials

If you have prostate cancer, you might have the chance to take part in a clinical trial. For example, medical researchers might be testing a new treatment for your type of prostate cancer.

Before you decide if a clinical trial is right for you, think about the pros and cons, ask questions and find out what it involves.  

Here we look at some of the big questions around clinical trials for prostate cancer. 

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What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a type of medical research. It aims to find new and improved ways of preventing, diagnosing, treating and controlling illnesses. People are involved in the trial in a controlled and carefully planned way.

Often clinical trials test medicines, medical procedures or medical equipment. Sometimes they want to find out more about the psychological and social effects of illness and treatment.

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Why are trials done?

Clinical trials are designed to answer questions - about a treatment or a procedure. The main questions are usually:

  • Does it work?
  • Is it safe?
  • Does it cause side effects?
  • How does it affect quality of life?
  • Does it work better than existing treatments?
  • What is the best dose to use?

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What are trials looking into at the moment?

Clinical trials for prostate cancer are looking at many different areas, including:

  • Prevention - whether medicines, vitamins, diet or exercise can reduce men's risk of prostate cancer.
  • Screening - the benefits and risks of a national screening programme, where lots of men are tested for prostate cancer.
  • Diagnosis - trying out new tests or scans to make the diagnosis of prostate cancer more accurate.
  • Quality of life - looking at how prostate cancer or its treatment could affect you in your daily life.
  • Counselling and complementary therapies - looking at ways to deal with the effects of illness, such as counselling or complementary therapies. 
  • Treatments - investigating new treatments or new ways of using existing treatments. This is a major focus of research at the moment.

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How are clinical trials done?

There are different ways of gathering evidence in cancer research. Trials are designed in different ways depending on what they're trying to find out.

Trials that look at treatments usually take place in four stages, called phases. If a phase is successful, the trial moves onto the next phase.

  • Phase 1 finds out about safety and side effects, and if the treatments could work well in humans.  
  • Phase 2 looks at how well a treatment works, and collects more information about safety and side effects.
  • Phase 3 tests a new treatment against the best existing treatment, if there is one available. 
  • Phase 4 happens after a new treatment is in use. Researchers collect information about long-term risks and benefits.

Scientists design trials to make sure the results are reliable, for example they use methods known as randomisation, placebos and blinded trials. And before any trial begins, there is a long and thorough process to make sure it's as safe as possible.  Find out more about the way trials are designed.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Without clinical trials and research studies we wouldn't have the treatments we have now. Thousands of people volunteer every year to take part in these trials. But you have to decide if it's right for you.

If you find a trial that could be suitable for you, find out as much as you can about it. Each trial is different, but these are some of the potential advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • You might have access to newer and perhaps more effective treatments which are not available outside the trial.
  • You may have more regular check-ups, tests and support from doctors and nurses than usual - some people find this very reassuring.
  • You are helping to improve future cancer treatment for others.
  • You feel you're doing something positive about your health and taking an active role in your treatment and recovery.

Disadvantages

  • You may have more frequent testing as well as treatment, which might be inconvenient. This can go on for a long time. Some people also find this makes them more anxious about their cancer.
  • There could be check-ups for many months or years afterwards, with questionnaires, tests or scans.
  • You might not know in advance about all the possible side effects - the researchers themselves might not know them all yet.
  • If the trial is randomised you won't get a choice about which treatment you have. 
  • If the trial is blinded, you won't know which treatment you are getting.
  • The new treatment may turn out to be no better than the existing treatment.
  • There is the risk that the new treatment may not help you, even if it helps others.

Whether you decide to take part in a trial or not, you should receive the highest standard of care and support available. Even if you don't get the new treatment, you will still havethe best treatment currently available. 

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What does taking part in a trial involve?

If you decide to take part in a trial the research team will give you the full details of what it will involve. There will be differences between trials, which depend on what the trial is investigating and what type of trial it is.

Normally being in a trial will involve:

  • Getting information and giving your consent. The team should explain the trial to you in detail, and answer your questionsbefore you agree to sign the consent form.
  • Checks and tests before the trial. This is to check you are suitable for the trial and includes filling in forms or questionnaires, a physical examination, and having some tests.
  • Visiting a hospital to have tests or treatments. You'll have regular check-ups as part of the study, which may be in addition to your usual hospital checks. 

You can leave the trial at any stage without giving a reason, but if you can give a reason this could help the research team design better trials in the future. You will still be offered the standard treatments for your stage of cancer. Health professionals won't treat you differently because you have left a trial. 

You might want to ask questions or raise concerns before, during and after a trial. When a trial ends you might also feel you need some support. 

You can speak to your GP or other health professional, or call our confidential helpline. You can get in touch with people who have had similar experiences, through your local prostate cancer support group or our online community. If you'd rather speak one-to-one, try our telephone peer support service

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How do I find out about trials for prostate cancer?

To find out about current clinical trials for men with prostate cancer you can:

  • ask your doctor or nurse if there are any local or national trials that may be suitable for you
  • call our Specialist Nurses on our confidential helpline
  • search online lists of trials, such as the NHS Choices clinical trials page.

If you find a trial you're interested in, show the details to your doctor or nurse. They can help you decide if it's likely to be suitable for you.

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Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • Do you know of any clinical trials for prostate cancer that I could go on?
  • What does the trial aim to find out?
  • Can you tell me the possible benefits and risks of taking part in the trial?
  • Will I definitely get the new treatment or procedure?
  • What extra tests will I have if I go on the trial?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Will I need to travel to another hospital?
  • Will my travel or other expenses be paid?
  • What happens if something goes wrong when I'm on the trial? Am I covered by insurance?
  • What support can I get during and after the trial?
  • Who should I contact if I have questions while I'm on the trial?
  • If the trial is successful, will I be able to continue with the treatment after it ends?

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References

You can find a full list of references used to produce this page in our online fact sheet.