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Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Participating in Clinical Trials - Is it Right for You?

Konstantin Dragnev

Offering clinical trials within an academic medical center like Dartmouth-Hitchcock is important because it gives you more choices and a better chance that a treatment will work on your disease/condition.

Konstantin Dragnev, MD

Konstantin Dragnev, MD, associate director of Clinical Research at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) Norris Cotton Cancer Center, answers questions on how to approach your doctor about clinical trials and why they can be an important part of treatment.

Currently, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) has more than 450 active trials that are enrolling patients. Clinical trials help to discover new treatments, as well as new ways to detect, diagnose and reduce the risk of disease. Participation in research enables breakthroughs in disease prevention and treatment. How do you know if one is right for you?

When should you ask about clinical trials?

Dragnev: When you first learn about your disease, or at any point when you will be part of a decision about changing treatment.

How should you ask your doctor about a clinical trial?

Dragnev: When you meet with your provider, they should review not only the disease/condition, but also what treatments are available and what to expect from standard treatment in terms of effectiveness and side effects. I believe it is very appropriate for you to ask if there are any new treatments that could involve research. You may use the words “clinical trial” or “clinical study,” or may just ask, "Is there anything new that will help treat my disease?"

What question(s) should you ask your doctor to find out if a clinical trial is right for you?

Dragnev: You, as a patient, asking and being proactive is actually welcomed by your provider. Here are some questions you should ask to decide if a clinical trial is right for you:

  • What alternatives do I have to the standard treatment?
  • Are there any clinical trials for my disease?
  • Is my disease/condition appropriate for the clinical trials that may be available?
  • What alternatives do I have to the clinical trials?
  • How will I know if I meet the criteria for the clinical trial?

Next, you need to think about the logistics of being part of a clinical trial. Some questions to ask your provider are:

  • If I follow the standard treatment for my disease or diagnosis, what does it involve?
  • If I am going to participate in a clinical trial, am I going to have to come more frequently, less frequently?
  • How long are the treatments?
  • Does my insurance cover the cost of the clinical trial?

Why is it important for you to know that your hospital has clinical trials?

Dragnev: Offering clinical trials within an academic medical center like D-H is important because it gives you more choices and a better chance that a treatment will work on your disease/condition. Progress comes from being involved in research that brings new treatments for you and other patients. In my mind, the availability of clinical trials broadens the options that a patient has as they determine the best route for their care.

If I no longer want to participate, is it easy to withdraw from a study?

Dragnev: It is very easy. The only thing you have to say to your provider is, “I do not want to participate anymore.” Your provider will still take care of you and you will receive the standard treatment for your disease/condition.

How can we encourage patients to ask about clinical trials and be healthy volunteers?

Dragnev: The type of trial has to have a goal of preventing a disease or dealing with the onset of the disease. Many clinical trials are directed toward patients who may be at risk for certain diseases. Educating primary care providers that there are trials for healthy individuals is important. Patients can also do a search to find out what is available. Some websites include the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Health website or Additionally, you can search the D-H website for studies that may be right for you.

What if a clinical trial is not offered at the hospital that I go to for standard treatment? Is there a way for me to still participate in one?

Dragnev: Definitely yes, and this is something that can be discussed between you and your provider. Again, if you are in a hospital or an outpatient center where clinical research is being conducted, your provider will know if there is one available at your institution or elsewhere that may work with your disease/condition.  

Is there anything else that patients should know about clinical trials?

Dragnev: Clinical trials are an option when you have limited standard treatments. Including clinical trials in your decision process is a personal choice and one you must carefully consider. As an academic medical center, D-H provides education, research and clinical care that is combined to enable the best possible clinical care, which uses new technologies, resources and therapies that other hospitals may not have available. With physicians, nurses, researchers and teachers working collaboratively, our patients have increased access to the latest medical advances and clinical trials.