The rarity of mesothelioma is the main culprit behind the difficulty in its diagnosis and treatment. There are so few cases relative to other types of cancer that it is harder to recognize and therefore fewer opportunities to develop new treatments.

Clinical trials create a platform for an array of new treatment options. The treatment methods used in these trials are often unavailable to those who aren’t participating and are sometimes the only treatment option left for those who are. It may even be the most effective treatment available.

Discovering new methods of treating mesothelioma is patently dependent on clinical trials. The treatment options, drugs and surgical procedures that are used by specialists today were first shown to be effective in clinical trials all with the hope of moving closer to a “cure”.

Why Choose a Clinical Trial?

One of the first things to consider when thinking about participating in a clinical trial is that all approved forms of treatment started out as clinical trials. Even though the nature of clinical trials is experimental, there is always a possibility of establishing a new, effective form of treatment.

For example, the standard treatment for mesothelioma is chemotherapy with Alimta and cisplatin. These were tested together in clinical trials in the early 2000s. Participants in these trials were the first patients to benefit from this advance in chemotherapy treatment.

The patient’s personal diagnosis is the biggest factor in deciding whether to enroll in a trial.

For instance, those who have a more forgiving diagnosis may be best served by taking a more orthodox route of treatment. Those diagnosed at a later stage typically have fewer treatment options; therefore, clinical trials are often a way to expand those limited options.

Each scenario is different and requires evaluation by a mesothelioma specialist, but clinical trials are generally worth at least considering. Patients may have to take the initiative to ask their doctor about clinical trials. Some surveys have shown that only 24% of patients are ever informed about clinical trials by a doctor.

Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled What?

There are several studies currently underway that are being directed as randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. Understanding what this means, and why some trials are conducted in this manner, can help dispel uncertainty and help patients make a well-informed decision when contemplating joining a clinical trial.

The gist of these studies is that some patients receive the experimental drug and some don’t. Neither the doctor nor the patient knows whether they received the placebo, and the group that receives the placebo is randomly chosen.

It is important to keep in mind that placebos are never used when there exists a treatment that is proven to be effective.

The reason these types of trials are conducted is to get faster results. Researchers can prove or disprove the effectiveness of a given treatment more quickly when they have a control group of participants to compare their results. By getting faster results, researchers can quickly determine whether there is a benefit of continuing the trial and hopefully get approval for the treatment outside of clinical trials.

Patients Can Opt Out of a Clinical Trial

Some patients don’t realize they can opt out of a clinical trial after they have enrolled. Participants are informed of this option when they sign on to a trial, but a lot of patients who are considering enrolling may be unaware of this fact. Simply put, if a patient’s condition doesn’t improve or gets worse while participating in a clinical trial, they can drop out of the trial. The patient will still be unaware of whether they were on the placebo, but can at least be comforted in knowing that they can pursue treatment outside of the trial.

There are many cases when a clinical trial makes more sense than traditional treatment. Those who have already had some form of treatment are likely to benefit the most from clinical trials. Most of the clinical trials for mesothelioma actually cater to patients who’ve received some form of treatment or didn’t respond well to their first line of chemotherapy.

If you’re considering looking into clinical trials, review our list of currently recruiting trials. We can help you understand your options and get you in touch with a specialist.

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    About the Writer, Andrew Devine

    Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.