Treating Melanoma Through Clinical Trials

All treatments that are available today have been discovered through clinical trials. Clinical trials are often viewed as the best treatment option for Stage II, III and IV melanoma patients, so it is important that you learn about them as a treatment option to help you make an informed treatment decision. All treatment options, including clinical trials, should be thoroughly discussed with your melanoma team. 

What is a Clinical Trial?

Clinical research studies help find new ways to treat, prevent and diagnose diseases.  A clinical trial is carefully designed to closely monitor people’s progress as they go through treatment with an investigational drug, product, device or method of treatment that has not been approved by the FDA. Today, all  medications prescribed by a doctor must first be tested in clinical research studies. Study participants receive close medical supervision and provide valuable feedback on their experiences.

All treatments must go through three phases of clinical research before becoming available to the public:

  • Phase I focuses primarily on safety in a small number of human volunteers
  • Phase II tests the effectiveness of the new drug on a small number of human volunteers
  • Phase III usually tests the new drug in comparison with the standard therapy currently being used on a larger number of human volunteers

Please remember, participating in a clinical trial is voluntary. Participants may choose to discontinue participation at any time.

Find Melanoma Clinical Trials

Are you looking for more information on clinical trials? It is important to discuss all treatment options, including clinical trials, with your melanoma treatment team, especially if you have been diagnosed with Stage II, III or IV melanoma. There are many ways you can learn more about available clinical trials, which centers of excellence are participating in clinical trials, and how to enroll in clinical trials; however, two of the easiest are noted below:

1. The Melanoma Research Foundation's Clinical Trial Finder, hosted through our partner, EmergingMed, can provide you with a free, confidential, personalized service that helps you understand which trials may be an option for you. For best results, we recommend that you register and complete the profile information. This process helps ensure you are matched to the best possible trials for you. 

MRF Clinical Trial Finder

2. The NIH hosts a world-wide clinical trial database provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Be specific in your search terms to find the most helpful results.

Reasons to Consider a Clinical Trial

There are a number of reasons you or your doctor may want to consider participation in a clinical trial, including:

  • Access to investigational treatments before they become widely available
  • Opportunity to play a role in the discovery of treatments, cures and preventions for certain diseases or medical conditions
  • Ability to play a more active role in your own healthcare
  • Access to free physical examinations and diagnostic tests related to the study

Questions to Ask your Physician

Before you enroll in a clinical trial, you may want to consider asking questions to fully understand: the study treatment, the logistics related to the study, the medications you will be taking, your privacy rights, your medical team, risks and benefits, and possible costs.  A detailed, thoughtful list of possible questions to consider are available on cancer.net

Patient Safety in Clinical Trials

All clinical research studies in the United States are reviewed by the FDA and governing bodies called institutional review boards (IRBs), whose job is to make sure participants’ rights are fully protected and that participants are not exposed to any unnecessary risks.

As noted earlier, participating in a clinical trial is voluntary. Before you enroll in a trial, a doctor or nurse will clearly explain the study procedures and requirements. This is called informed consent. Doctors are not allowed to enroll patients in clinical trials without first ensuring they understand what their involvement in the trial means. Once you enroll, you may end your participation at any time.

What is Personalized Medicine?

As research has become more advanced, scientists have discovered that not all types of melanoma are identical.   Each cancer is as unique as the patient in which it is found.  According to the NCI, personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine, is a “form of medicine that uses information about a person’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.  In cancer, personalized medicine uses specific information about a person’s tumor to help diagnose, plan treatment, find out how well treatment is working, or make a prognosis”.  For example, in melanoma, a targeted therapy may be used to treat BRAF-mutant melanoma cells.

Importance of Tissue Donation for Research

Although tissue is critical for decisions related to patient care, it is also essential for clinical research. Tissues are the materials of which all people are made, this includes blood, tumor tissue, urine, bone marrow, lymph nodes, etc.  Investigators study tissues to try and learn more about cancer (understanding what causes it and how it can be prevented), what patients will respond to specific treatments, and/or to determine if a patient is responding to a specific treatment, as well as many other areas of research.  The Importance of Tissue Donation in Research is clearly outlined in the free publication available on the Research Advocacy’s Network website.