There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the topic of cancer clinical trials. Thousands of clinical trials are conducted annually, and along with them come nearly as many misconceptions.

Some people say patients are merely guinea pigs, or that half the patients enrolled are simply given sugar pills. These beliefs are just some of the many that cause patients to pause, and sometimes back out of clinical research trials, says Judy Chatigny, MSN, executive director of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center

“Clinical trials are a great way for cancer patients to get the latest cutting-edge treatment, and at the same time help the next generation of patients that will face a diagnosis of cancer,” she says.

The Cancer Center team often addresses some common beliefs to reveal the truth behind clinical trials:

Myth: Patients are treated like guinea pigs.
Truth: Before any new treatment is used with people in clinical trials, researchers work for many years to understand its effects on cancer cells and animals in the lab, and then on humans. They also try to determine the side effects the treatment may cause. Before a treatment is used on patients battling cancer, it has a long track record of excellent results based on careful study. The truth is, guinea pigs are treated like guinea pigs, and patients are treated like patients.

Myth: Half the group will just get sugar pills.
Truth: Placebos (often found in the form of sugar pills) are rarely used in cancer treatment clinical trials. If they are used, they are typically given in addition to standard treatments that have already been proven. Most cancer treatment trials are designed to determine if experimental treatments can add benefits to existing treatments that work. Patients are always told if the study includes use of a placebo.

Myth: Research studies are only for people with no other options.
Truth: Research studies aren’t exclusively used for people who have cancer, let alone those who have no other options. Prevention trials and screening trials are also popular. These types of trials can reduce the threat that patients with a high risk might present, as well as find the disease early when it’s more treatable. In addition, research studies often enroll patients to determine if new treatments add anything to current proven treatments. In these studies, all patients get at least the current, proven treatments.

Myth: There’s no real benefit to the patient.
Truth: Patients are living longer from successful cancer treatments that are the results of past clinical trials. By taking part in a trial, patients may have access to a new treatment that is not available to people outside the trial. Science and medicine are always evolving. Treatments are adjusted and improved constantly. Often, these more-effective treatments are included in clinical trials, allowing participants to be among the first to benefit.

Myth: Health insurance doesn’t cover that kind of treatment.
Truth: There are costs related to treating cancer, whether a patient is in a trial or receiving standard therapy. These costs are often covered by health insurance. There are also research costs, which are not always covered by insurance. However, these costs are often covered by the trial’s sponsor.

Myth: Clinical trials are too dangerous.
Truth: There are federal rules in place to help ensure the safety and ethics of clinical trials. In addition, the trial is subject to ongoing monitoring by the institution, the institutional review board (IRB) and the research teams.

Myth: Patients will have to stop all other medical treatments.
Truth: Many clinical trials include standard therapy as part of the study, which may be testing an additional drug to see if the combination is more effective.

Understanding the truth behind clinical trials can help both current and potential patients decide if a clinical trial is a viable option for them. Clinical trials are an enormous weapon in the fight against cancer, and they hold the power to prove whether a new treatment works better than current treatments.

To find out more about the clinical trials offered at Loma Linda University Cancer Center, visit