American Association for Cancer Research

How to Find a Clinical Trial

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If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, or if your cancer has returned or is not responding to treatment, you may be a candidate for a clinical trial.

A clinical trial is a research study designed to determine the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment. These studies are carried out only after researchers have found that the treatment was safe and effective in laboratory and animal studies. Researchers carefully track the health status of the individuals who enroll in their clinical trials. This follow up may continue for five or ten years, and sometimes even longer, in order to fully assess the impact of the new treatment.

Clinical trials are critical to the development of new cancer treatments. Without clinical trials there would be no way to determine if new treatments are safe and effective, what risks or side effects they have, and whether they are equivalent to or superior than treatments already in use.

There are three types of clinical trials. Phase I trials are the first studies to test a new drug or drug combination in humans. Designed to establish drug safety, these studies are generally only open to individuals with advanced cancer. Phase II trials evaluate drug effectiveness and involve more participants than phase I studies. Phase III trials are designed to compare a new treatment to one or more standard treatments. Phase III studies are usually randomized. This means that participants are randomly divided into treatment groups and not told until the study is over whether they received a standard treatment or the new treatment.

Because new trials are getting underway all the time, oncologists (doctors who specialize in treating cancer) are not always aware of all the trials available to their patients. This means that cancer patients frequently must do their own research to find the clinical trials that may be right for them.

Before you begin searching for a clinical trial you must learn the details of your cancer diagnosis. You will need to know, for example, what type of cancer you have and where it is located; the tumor's size (if you have a solid tumor); the cancer's stage; and, if you have been treated previously, what type of treatment you had. (If you are newly diagnosed, you should look for trials before you have surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or other types of treatment.)

There is no one database that lists every ongoing clinical trial. This means you may need to look on a couple of websites to get the information you need.

The best places to start are:

The Physician Data Query (PDQ) clinical trials database, run by the National Cancer Institute, includes more than 2000 clinical trials. You can also get information by calling toll free 1-800-4-CANCER. (This same database can be accessed through the National Library of Medicine's database

Current Controlled Trials is an international database of randomized controlled trials. Researchers who want their study results published in one of the leading medical journals are now required to post their studies in this database.

The TrialCheck database is maintained by the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups. The coalition's members include many of the conductors of large cancer clinical trials in the United States. Phone toll free 1-877-520-4457.

The Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation's Website CancerActionNow includes a partial list of disease-specific patient advocacy groups and foundations. These groups often have information about current trials, and some even maintain cancer-specific databases. These include:

Clinical Trials and Noteworthy Treatments for Brain Tumors. Phone toll free 1-888-295-4740. Phone 1-831-658-0600.

Other sites that may be useful: provides an online matching service that makes it easier and faster to find clinical trials.

CenterWatch is a clinical trials listing service. Phone 1-617-856-5900.

EmergingMed is a free and confidential cancer clinical trial matching and referral service. Phone toll free 1-877-601-8601.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) maintains a New Medicines in Development Database. The database includes information about new drugs and links to the websites of the companies developing them. Information about clinical trials is posted on these sites.


If you find a trial that interests you, contact the clinical trial coordinator. The coordinator can tell you if you are eligible for the trial, answer your questions, and schedule an appointment for you. You should also talk to your doctor about whether this particular trial is right for you. If your doctor does not think it is a good choice, you may want to get a second opinion from another oncologist about your treatment options. It is important to take the doctors' recommendations into account. But if you are eligible for the trial, then the person who has the final say over whether you join the trial is you.

– Sue Rochman


For an additional list of organizations that can help patients find clinical trials, please visit our Support and Advocacy Groups webpage.

If you find an old or broken link, please let us know by sending an e-mail to



Nov. 15, 2011