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Clinical trials

Medical research trials that involve patients are called clinical trials. The aim of a clinical trial is to compare different treatments to see if they’re safe, if they work and how well they work. There are different types of clinical trials, looking at prevention, diagnosis, treatment and quality of life.

Some clinical trials test new treatments but others involve new ways of using existing treatments, for example, by comparing different doses, timings and treatment combinations.

This page tells you how you can find a trial and what things to think about before you give your consent to take part in a trial. We’ve also suggested some questions you might like to ask.

Finding a trial

The researchers will be looking for people who meet a list of criteria, such as a certain stage of disease or treatment history.  If you would like to take part in a clinical trial, ask your healthcare team if you are suitable for any current trials in your area. You can also find a list of trials on the UK Clinical Trials Gatewayand the Cancer Research UK websites.

Taking part in a trial

The advantages of taking part in a clinical trial include:

  • possibly having a treatment that isn’t normally available
  • having extra check-ups and support
  • feeling you are taking control over your cancer
  • helping to improve treatment and care for people in the future.


The disadvantages include:

  • not being able to choose which treatment you have
  • possibly not knowing whether you are having a real drug or a dummy (placebo) drug
  • finding the extra check-ups tiring or difficult to fit into your everyday life
  • the risk of unknown side effects.

The research team should send you a copy of the results once the trial is finished.

Giving your consent

If you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you will need to sign a form to give your informed consent. This means you understand what the trial involves and you agree to take part.

You will usually have time to ask questions about the trial and to speak to your family and friends before you decide whether to give your consent. If you change your mind, you can leave a trial at any time without giving a reason.

If you decide to take part in a trial, the clinical trial team will send details to your GP and hospital healthcare team. Nobody else will have access to your medical information. The trial results will not identify you or give any personal details about you.

Cancer Research UK have detailed information about taking part in clinical trials.

Questions to ask

The research team will give you detailed information about the trial before you agree to take part and they will answer any questions you might have. Here are some suggested questions.

  • What is the trial testing? For example, a new treatment or combination of treatments?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Will I know which treatment I’m getting?
  • Does the trial include a dummy (placebo) drug?
  • What are the benefits and risks of taking part in the trial?
  • What support will I get during the trial?
  • What expenses can I claim?
  • Will I still see my usual healthcare team during the trial?


Updated March 2016. Due for review March 2019 

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