When melanoma is detected and treated early, before it spreads to other parts of the body, it can often be cured with surgery. But, when the melanoma metastasizes, surgery alone won't help, and there are just a few drugs approved to treat metastatic melanoma. Joining a clinical trial may offer more treatment options.
Clinical trials use volunteer human participants who are willing to face additional uncertainties of treatment in order to access new and promising therapies. The treatment may not have been thoroughly tested on humans yet. There may be no guarantee that the treatment will help or that there won’t be severe side effects. But many of the treatments used today were once studied in a clinical trial and many people are alive today because people volunteered to be part of a clinical trial.
In metastatic melanoma clinical trials, every participant receives real treatment; there are no placebo groups. These trials don’t focus on a cure; instead, they aim to help patients live longer or improve symptoms. Several clinical trials are testing new therapies which have demonstrated substantial tumor shrinkage, prolonged remission, and improved survival rates.
Finding a clinical trial
When undergoing treatment for metastatic melanoma, your doctor may provide you with information on clinical trials that are being held in your area. Even if your doctor does not suggest joining a clinical trial, or you are unsure whether you qualify, it’s important to discuss clinical trials as a treatment option. And you don’t have to wait till you’ve had the diagnosis for a while. You can join a clinical trial early in your treatment; it may give you more therapy choices.
There are a number of places you can search for clinical trials:
In addition, you can contact melanoma advocacy organizations and ask about clinical trials. Some organizations include:
How to get in a clinical trial
Once you find a clinical trial you may be interested in joining, check to see if they are actively enrolling participants. If, so, look over the eligibility criteria to make sure it would be a good fit for you. The eligibility criteria usually include age, gender, type of cancer, and stage of cancer.
You may also want to review the study protocol, which describes what the researchers are trying to find out and their plan of action. Find out how long the study lasts, what the potential benefits and risks are, your privacy rights and what will happen during the study. You can discuss this information with your doctor and review the pros and cons of joining the study.
If, after reviewing all the information, you still want to go ahead, contact the study organizers. This information should be available on the original study listing you found. Make an appointment to talk with the organizers and ask what steps you need to take to join the study.
What to expect when you join a clinical trial
When you first decide to join a clinical trial, you will be asked to give your informed consent. During this process, the research team will explain the details of the study and answer and questions you may have. In addition to the basics why and how of the study, you must have information on the risks and benefits, what the treatment is, what other treatments might be an option for you, how the study works, if there are any costs associated with the study, how often you will see a doctor and what privacy rights you have.
Before you begin any treatment, you may be required to undergo medical exams and tests, such as blood tests or imaging tests. You may need to have a full medical examination and history. Once all the preliminary work is complete, you will receive treatments as outlined in the study protocol. Many times, all doctor’s visits and medications related to the study are completed at no cost to you.