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Phases of Clinical Trials

Adapted from the Website of the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov)

Phase I trials are the first step in testing a new approach in people. In these studies, researchers evaluate what dose is safe, how a new agent should be given (by mouth, injected into a vein, or injected into the muscle), and how often. Researchers watch closely for any harmful side effects. Phase I trials usually enroll a small number of patients and take place at only a few locations. The dose of the new therapy or technique is increased a little at a time. The highest dose with an acceptable level of side effects is determined to be appropriate for further testing.

Phase II trials study the safety and effectiveness of an agent or intervention, and evaluate how it affects the human body. Phase II studies usually focus on a particular type of cancer, and include fewer than 100 patients.

Phase III trials compare a new agent or intervention (or new use of a standard one) with the current standard therapy. Participants are randomly assigned to the standard group or the new group, usually by computer. This method, called randomization, helps to avoid bias and ensures that human choices or other factors do not affect the study’s results. In most cases, studies move into Phase III testing only after they have shown promise in Phases I and II. Phase III trials often include large numbers of people across the country.

Phase IV trials are conducted to further evaluate the long-term safety and effectiveness of a treatment. They usually take place after the treatment has been approved for standard use. Several hundred to several thousand people may take part in a phase IV study. These studies are less common than Phase I, II, or III trials.

Every advance in treating breast cancer has been the result of a clinical trial.

From www.breastcancertrials.org

What are the benefits of participating in a clinical trial?

  • Receive innovative treatment that may become standard therapy in the future
  • Gain access to experimental drugs or procedures when standard therapies are no longer effective
  • Contribute to medical research that may benefit future generations
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