By the time physicians start using the word “mesothelioma” around you, it is often already obvious that something is wrong or different. Perhaps your health has been declining, or you’ve had unexplained symptoms. Though a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a terrible blow, it can also create clarity. Unexplained symptoms snap into a single, comprehensible order. Treatments become available. And, through clinical trials, options can open up.
But just what are clinical trials for mesothelioma, and how can you use them to your advantage? Here is a quick primer on what are they are, how they work and how to participate in them.
MPM clinical trials: The basics
Every medical treatment used in the U.S. has to first be tested. To begin, scientists do laboratory experiments involving cells and animals, to make sure a regimen is tolerable for people. But ultimately, doctors need to know that a treatment is safe and effective for actual patients. This is where a clinical trial comes in.
These trials are conducted in four phases. A treatment has to be approved in one in order to “graduate” to the next.
Phase 0: Scientists want to establish what a drug does when introduced into in the body. Very few patients participate.
Phase I: Researchers establish whether a drug is safe. Between 15 and 50 patients participate. No placebos are used.
Phase II: If safe, a drug is now tested to see if it is efficacious – that is, if it does what doctors and patients want it to do. Doses and methods vary. Between 25 and 100 people participate. No placebos are used.
Phase III: In this final step, researchers try to determine if a drug is better than what is already available for patients. At least a few hundred people are enrolled, if not more. Placebos may be used.
Drugs that pass Phase III clinical trials are then submitted to the FDA for approval.
Why clinical trials for mesothelioma matter
As the American Cancer Society notes, most people live their lives without needing to think about clinical trials. That’s because, for milder diseases, existing treatments are usually good enough.
However, patients with grave illnesses like mesothelioma are in constant need of new and better medicines. Thus, people who join mesothelioma clinical trials are doing their part to help advance the treatment of MPM.
Clinical trials are not without risks. There is no guarantee that an experimental treatment will work better than an existing one. But for people with mesothelioma, access to clinical trials means having more therapeutic options. Often, MPM patients’ only avenue for trying cutting-edge treatments – like photodynamic therapy, gene therapy or targeted drugs – is the clinical trial.
If you’d like to learn about current trials for mesothelioma, check the website of the National Cancer Institute, which keeps a running list.
Is a mesothelioma clinical trial right for me?
This is a question no one can answer for you. At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we stress how important it is to speak with your doctors, specialists, family members and legal counsel before deciding one way or the other.
There are certain factors you will need to weigh.
- What are the risks and benefits of a particular trial?
- Does your form of mesothelioma meet its criteria?
- How advanced is your condition?
- Have you explored all other available options?
- What are the costs?
- How much will your insurance cover?
- What do you expect to get out of a clinical trial?
This last question may be the most critical. With mesothelioma, it is important to set realistic goals. Clinical trials do not offer cures, but they do present the chance to try a treatment that may extend life by months or even years.