What Are Cancer Clinical Trials?


Clinical trials are research studies designed to answer scientific questions and discover better ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat various diseases and conditions. A clinical trial is one of the last stages of a long and careful process. Scientists begin by developing and testing new ideas in a laboratory. If a treatment seems promising, the next step may be testing it in animals to learn how it affects the disease in a living being and if it has harmful effects.

Treatments that work in a lab or in animals may not always work well in people. When a potential treatment seems safe enough to try in humans, it proceeds to be studied in a clinical trial. These trials are done with patients to learn whether promising treatments are safe and effective. 

The most successful treatments today are based on what we have learned from clinical trials. As a result, people with various diseases are living longer and with a better quality of life.

If you are interested in joining a clinical trial, the research team and your provider are your go-to sources, but here are the answers to some of the most common questions:

*Note that we use “treatment” when answering these questions, but the same answers can be used for clinical trials studying how we provide care, such as blood tests or imaging.

I’ve seen trials listed as “Phase 1” or “Phase 2.” What does that mean?

What are the benefits and risks?

Are clinical trials safe?

How are clinical trials different from getting regular treatment?

What about costs? Can I get paid to participate?

What if I decide I don’t want to participate in the trial anymore?

How do I know if I’m a good candidate for a trial?

Why should I be part of a clinical trial?

If I join a clinical trial, is there a risk that I won’t be given any treatment at all?

Who do I talk to if I want to be part of a trial?

What other resources are available to learn more about clinical trials?

Diversity in Clinical Trials: How University of Illinois Cancer Center is Fighting Cancer Disparities

From family history to a person’s living environment to a lack of access to healthcare, there are many reasons why disparities exist in cancer care. One of these reasons is the lack of diversity among participants in clinical trials.

Many diseases affect people of different races and ethnicities, which is why clinical trials are more effective if the participants represent all types of patients. However, minority groups are significantly underrepresented among clinical trial participants. 

Diversity in Clinical Trials

  • Black people make up 13.4% of the US population, but only 5% of all clinical trial participants.
  • People of Hispanic or Latino origin represent 18.1% of the US population, but only 1% of all clinical trial participants.
  • Less than 5% of breast cancer studies look at race and socioeconomic factors when drawing conclusions from the study’s results.
  • Over 96% of prostate cancer clinical trial participants are non-Hispanic white men — despite the fact that 22% of prostate cancer diagnoses are in non-Hispanic Black men.

Sources: The American Journal of Managed Care (2020), JAMA Oncology (2019), Clinical Research Pathways, Oncology Nursing Society

Increasing diversity is essential to improving cancer care for all patients. Having diverse clinical trials helps the FDA understand how new medical products may help or affect groups of future patients, such as:

  • People of color
  • Underserved populations
  • Older people
  • Women

At the Cancer Center, our goal is to eliminate disparities in cancer care — and one way we do that is by increasing representation of minority groups in our research. The Cancer Center and UI Health serves a highly diverse population, and many of our clinical trials draw on participation from our patients. This allows us to make a direct impact on our diverse community and reduce disparities in cancer research.

To find a clinical trial at University of Illinois Cancer Center currently enrolling patients, please see the the Cancer Clinical Trials Clinical Trials listing.

For more information about cancer clinical trials, please see the following resources:

Contact Us

To learn more about clinical trials, contact the University of Illinois Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office:


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