When a pet is diagnosed with cancer, it’s not easy to know what to do next. The good news is, there may be several treatment options to consider. Sometimes, one of these is enrollment in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are studies used in all specialties of medicine in the hopes of advancing or improving treatment options. In veterinary oncology, clinical trials enroll client-owned pets to evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs, find novel uses of old drugs, or investigate new approaches to surgery and/or radiation therapy to treat cancer.
When considering whether to participate in a study, many questions may come to mind, such as:
What is a clinical trial?
How do I know if my pet is eligible?
Why would I choose to enroll my pet into a research study?
How do I enroll my pet in a clinical trial?
The goal of this article is to help you understand clinical trials and to make things a bit easier for you if you are faced with this difficult decision.
When considering a clinical trial, the first step is to find out if one exists. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you learn about ongoing clinical trials in your area:
- The AVMA Animal Health Studies Database is a website where you can search for studies for your pet’s cancer
- Veterinary hospitals in your area may have information about their ongoing studies on their websites; we have a dedicated page on the Flint Animal Cancer Center’s website
- Ask your primary care veterinarian if he or she knows about any research studies in your area
Once you find a trial, you will need to schedule an appointment. Before your pet can enroll in a study, your pet will likely need additional diagnostic testing to see if he or she qualifies to participate. All studies have specific criteria that your pet needs to meet. In general, your pet will need to see the doctors conducting the trial before eligibility can be confirmed.
Every pet enrolled in a clinical trial provides valuable information we can use to improve cancer therapies. Potential benefits of enrolling your pet into a clinical trial include the following:
- Opportunity to receive a new, possibly more effective, treatment that is not otherwise available
- Financial assistance
- Treatments and/or diagnostics associated with the study are often paid for
- Credits for future treatments for your pet may be included
- Knowing that you are contributing to research that may potentially benefit animals and/or people in the future
When compared with standard cancer treatment protocols, enrolling your pet in a clinical trial requires an extra commitment from you.
- In general, all study visits need to happen at the study’s designated hospital or clinic; consider how far you are willing to drive.
- Extra tests may be needed to see if your pet is eligible for the trial
- Clinical trials are not always free; you might be responsible for some of the costs associated with the study
- Additional visits and/or diagnostics may be required as part of study participation
- Continued follow-up, months or even years after treatment ends, may be required
Once you have gathered information about potential treatments for your pet’s cancer (both standard and clinical trials), it is important to carefully consider all options before making a decision. Just because a therapy is available does not mean it is necessarily the best fit for you and your pet. The main goal for every patient is a good quality of life. An important thing to remember is that, if you choose one path and are unhappy with how it is going, you can decide to stop or change treatment at any time. This is true for clinical trials as well.
Once study coordinators determine your pet is eligible for a clinical trial, you can enroll him or her. You will need to sign a consent form, which outlines the goals of the study, what your responsibilities are, treatment plans and schedule, and what financial benefits the study provides. It is very important that you read through this carefully and ask any questions that you might have. If there is something you do not understand or do not feel comfortable with, you should not sign it until your concerns are resolved. Once you sign the consent form, your pet is ready to begin the trial!
An important part of any clinical trial is collecting long-term follow-up information about participating pets. Even if your pet does not complete the study, someone may contact you months to years down the road to ask questions about your pet. Any information you can offer is very useful for the researchers conducting the study.
Clinical trials offer veterinary oncologists and scientists key information to find better therapies to improve the quality of life for pets with cancer. When considering if a clinical trial is the right treatment route, do your research and ask questions; then you can make the best decision for both you and your pet.
The following resources provide more information on veterinary oncology clinical trials: