Savvy Senior: What to consider before joining a clinical trial

Jim Miller gives advice and warnings on joining medical clinical trials.
BY Jim Miller For The Oklahoman Modified: June 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm •  Published: June 25, 2013
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Dear Savvy Senior: What can you tell me about clinical trials and how to go about finding one? My wife has a chronic condition and we're interested in trying anything that may be able to help her.

Looking For Help

Dear Looking: Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans participate in clinical trials in hopes of gaining access to the latest, and possibly greatest, but not yet on the market treatments for all types of illnesses. But you need to be aware that clinical trials can vary greatly in what they're designed to do, so be careful to choose one that can actually benefit your wife. Here's what you should know along with some tips for locating one.

What it is

A clinical trial is the scientific term for a test or research study of a drug, device or medical procedure using people.

These trials — sponsored by drug companies, doctors, hospitals and the federal government — are conducted to learn whether a new treatment is safe and effective.

But keep in mind that these new treatments are also unproven, so there may be risks too.

Also be aware that all clinical trials have certain eligibility criteria (age, gender, health status, etc.) that your wife must meet in order to be accepted.

And before taking part in a trial, she'll be asked to sign an informed consent agreement. She can also leave a study at any time.

Things to know

Before deciding to participate in a trial, you and your wife need to first discuss it with her doctor. Then, schedule an appointment with the study's medical team and ask lots of questions. Here are some to get you started.

What's the purpose of the study and can it improve your wife's condition? You may be surprised to know that many drug or procedural trials are not designed to find a cure or improve a patient's health, but only to provide scientific data.

What are the risks? Some treatments can have side effects that are unpleasant, serious and even life threatening.

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