For cancer patients, any advancement in medicine, treatment, and diagnosis is a welcome helping hand. And in the fight against cancer, there are never too many hands on deck.
One of the strongest players in helping cancer patients find the best treatment options available is cancer clinical trials. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many health plans cover at least part of the costs associated with a cancer clinical trial.
From how much it costs to how to find the right trial for you, here’s everything you need to know about the advantages of cancer clinical trials.
What are cancer clinical trials?
Cancer clinical trials are research studies that can help doctors find new ways to diagnose and treat cancer. In a clinical trial, cancer patients volunteer to test new drugs or treatments.
Cancer clinical trials are used to find new ways to:
- Treat cancer.
- Find and diagnose cancer.
- Prevent cancer.
- Manage cancer symptoms and side effects of various treatments.
Cancer clinical trials are available for patients with all stages of cancer and all different types of cancer.
Who sponsors cancer clinical trials?
There are many different organizations and companies that offer cancer clinical trials. Some trials are funded by nonprofit organizations or the US government. Other trials are funded by for-profit groups, like drug companies.
Hospitals and academic medical centers also sponsor trials conducted by their own researchers.
When searching for a cancer clinical trial online, look at the protocol summary for each trial. A protocol summary should explain:
- The goal of the trial.
- Which treatments will be tested.
- The location of the trial.
Protocols sometimes use complicated medical language, as they’re often written for health care providers to read and understand. If you have difficulty understanding a cancer clinical trial protocol, talk to your doctor or a help representative at the National Cancer Institute.
How do I find a cancer clinical trial?
There are several ways to search cancer clinical trials across the US. Browse the following options to find a trial that may be best for you:
1. NCI-supported clinical trials
The National Cancer Institute has their own database of cancer clinical trials across North America and abroad.
ClinicalTrials.gov is part of the National Library of Medicine. This database contains some trials supported by The National Cancer Institute.
3. Cancer centers and clinics that conduct cancer clinical trials
Many cancer centers across the US sponsor or takes part in cancer clinical trials.
The websites of these centers usually have a list of the clinical trials taking place at their institutions. You can also search the NCI’s database of cancer centers and clinics that offer clinical trials.
4. Drug and biotechnology companies
While biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies both produce medicine, biotechnology companies' drugs use live organisms, like bacteria or enzymes. Pharmaceutical companies’ drugs are created using a chemical basis.
Many drug and biotechnology companies that offer cancer clinical trials provide a list of the trials on their websites.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is a trade organization that works with US drug and biotechnology companies. You can search its list of member companies that sponsor cancer clinical trials to find a trial that may fit your needs.
How do I prepare for a cancer clinical trial?
Before a cancer clinical trial, you’ll need to know certain details about your cancer diagnosis like what kind of cancer you have, where in your body cancer first started, and the cancer cell type.
This Cancer Details Checklist provided by the National Cancer Institute includes the full list of details you’ll need to provide for a cancer clinical trial. If you need help filling out the form, talk to doctor or nurse at your doctor's office.
The more information you can gather, the easier it will be to find a clinical trial that fits your needs.
How much do cancer clinical trials cost?
There are two different costs associated with a clinical trial: the patient care cost and research cost.
Patient care costs are related to any treatments for your cancer that may be provided by your trial. Most of the time, these costs will be covered by your health insurance plan.
Patient costs include:
- Doctor visits
- Hospital stays
- Standard cancer treatments
- Treatments to alleviate symptoms of your cancer or the side effects from treatment
- Lab tests
- X-rays and other imaging tests
Research costs are often not covered by health insurance but may be covered by the trial’s sponsor. These costs may include:
- The study drug.
- Lab tests (like a blood test) performed for research purposes of the trial.
- Any additional X-rays and imaging tests for research purposes of the trial.
When you take part in a trial, you may have extra doctor visits so your doctor can closely monitor you for side effects after the study. Out-of-pocket costs like childcare, transportation or copays could add up for any extra visits.
Are clinical trials covered by my insurance?
Most health insurance plans are required by law to cover the routine patient care costs of clinical trials.
However, to be eligible for coverage, you may need to meet the following requirements:
- You must be eligible for the trial.
- The trial must be a federally-approved clinical trial.
- The trial doesn’t use out-of-network doctors or hospitals (if out-of-network care isn’t covered by your plan).
- If your plan does cover out-of-network doctors or hospitals, it must cover these costs associated with the trial.
Your health plan also isn’t required by law to cover the research costs of a clinical trial. However, it may cover these costs regardless. Talk to your health plan provider to find out which of your cancer clinical trial costs are covered or not covered by your plan.
If you’re a Medicaid recipient, federal law doesn’t require your Medicaid plan to cover the routine patient care costs of a clinical trial.
When it comes to covering the costs of your cancer diagnosis and treatment, your health plan may not be doing enough to fit the bill. Critical illness insurance can be a way to help pay for the costs that come with cancer and other serious illnesses.