To make advances in better caring for people with cancer, doctors create research studies called clinical trials. Clinical trials help doctors evaluate how well new cancer treatments work and what their possible side effects may be. By searching for open clinical trials, patients may be able to find new treatment options available to them.
In making your cancer treatment decisions, you may consider joining a clinical trial. If you are interested in participating in a cancer clinical trial, a good first step is to ask your doctor about which clinical trials are open to you based on your diagnosis and other health factors. And, you may consider using a matching program to find clinical trial options that may be right for you.
What is a clinical trial matching program?
A clinical trial matching program is a way for people with cancer to find clinical trials that they may be eligible to participate in. These programs help people with cancer find current research studies based on their individual diagnosis, including their type of cancer, their previous treatments, and the stage of cancer. These services can also help people with cancer identify clinical trial options based on their location.
Matching programs give people with cancer an opportunity to see what research is being done to find better treatments and care for people with similar diagnoses. After you provide your information, matching programs often do much of the legwork for you to find clinical trials that fit your individual criteria. Then, you can discuss those search results with your health care team to choose the right option for you.
What types of clinical trial matching programs are there?
There is a broad range of clinical trial matching programs available for free to patients. Some matching programs are databases provided by the U.S. government, while others are run by patient advocacy groups, medical organizations, or private companies using artificial intelligence (AI) software. Often, there are people available to help guide you in the process of using a clinical trial matching program, including by phone or online chat.
A major resource to find cancer clinical trials is ClinicalTrials.gov, which provides access to a U.S. government database of publicly and privately supported clinical trials. On ClinicalTrials.gov, you can select a type of cancer, your country, and, if you live in the United States, your state, city, and the distance you would be willing to travel to participate in a clinical trial. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a federal agency that provides funding for most U.S. cancer clinical trials and has a search tool on its website that allows you to find clinical trials based on your cancer type, age, and ZIP code.
Clinical trial matching programs, such as those used by some patient advocate groups and private companies, can also use online software that has been developed to help enroll people in clinical trials. Many of them ask you to input certain characteristics about your cancer, including the stage and previous treatments you have received, into an online platform. Then, using a detailed AI-based algorithm, the programs can identify potential clinical trials for you to participate in within a specified area.
These types of programs can be used by patients, as well as by health care providers, patient advocacy groups, and pharmaceutical companies to help match and enroll participants.
“Doctors and patients are putting their heads around the best way to incorporate these matching programs as part of a highly nuanced discussion of the cancer treatment plan. There may be a lot of subtleties that go into actually placing patients in clinical trials that ultimately need to be discussed with the doctor.” – Charu Aggarwal, MD, MPH, the Leslye Heisler Associate Professor of Medicine in the Hematology-Oncology Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the 2023 Cancer.Net Associate Editor for Lung Cancer
How should patients discuss matching programs with their health care team?
Clinical trial matching programs can give people with cancer a better understanding of what all their potential treatment options may be. The search results can also spark a conversation with the health care team about the goals of treatment or about comparing the potential risks and benefits of one treatment option over another.
However, clinical trial matching programs are not a standalone solution for choosing the best treatment option. Instead, they can provide additional information that can be useful to people with cancer as they work with their doctor to develop a treatment plan. This process is called shared decision-making.
It is important to realize that search results may include medical language, which may make it challenging to decide whether a study is right for you on your own. There may be times when you need to get missing or additional information from your health care team or through the matching program’s staff. For example, some results from these programs might not provide all the details about the line of therapy being used in the clinical trial and whether it is a good fit for your diagnosis, or they may not describe the exclusion or inclusion criteria needed to participate in the study.
If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial matching program, talk with your health care team about what they recommend. You can ask them about what specific programs might be right for you based on your type of cancer, your previous treatments, or other criteria. Cancer.Net also offers a list of cancer clinical trials matching programs here.