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Ask the Doctor

“Ask the Doctor” is a new regular feature of the MFF Forum. If you would like a question answered, please send it to: MFF Forum, PO Box 374, Birmingham, MI 48012-0374. Or, send us an email.

The following questions were answered by Stuart R. Lessin, M.D. Director of Dermatology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

How do I benefit from participating in a clinical trial?
Participation in a clinical trial may provide you with access to a beneficial treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Does my doctor have to approve my participation in a clinical trial? If not, should I consult with my doctor anyway before volunteering?
Participation in all clinical trials is strictly voluntary. It is your decision to participate. Participation eligibility does not require a doctor's approval. In order for you to make an informed decision about your health, however, it is important to gather as much information as necessary, so you can understand the benefits and the risks of the treatment options that are available to you. Your doctor is a valuable source of information and advice, and you will benefit from consulting your doctor concerning participation in a clinical trial.

How do I find out about clinical trials?
The first source is your doctor. Then, a medical center that specializes in your disease will usually have information about clinical trials. National organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute have information about cancer clinical trials. Patient advocacy groups and disease foundations (www.mffoudation.org) provide information and help in learning more about clinical trials. The Internet has become a great tool in helping patients learn more about clinical trials (www.clinicaltrials.gov, www.centerwatch.org, www.leukemia-lymphoma.org).

Can I participate in a clinical trial that is outside my local area? Who pays for my travel expenses?
Yes, you can participate in a clinical trial outside your local area. Some clinical trials will reimburse participants for their travel expenses, but usually for local travel. You need to ask the organizers of the clinical trial about travel expenses, if you are considering participating in a clinical trial outside of your local area.

Don't you have to have "no other choices" before you participate in a clinical trial?
No, you can participate in a clinical trial if you meet the study's eligibility criteria. The type of clinical trial, the treatment being tested, the stage of your cancer and your medical history all contribute to determining whether you are eligibile to participate in a particular clinical trial. Often times, clinical trials become attractive treatment options to cancer patients who have not responded to standard therapies. A clinical trial may provide them with an opportunity to choose a new treatment.