About clinical trials for breast cancer in women
Cancer research trials are carried out to try to find new and better treatments for cancer. Trials that are carried out on patients are known as clinical trials.
Trials may be carried out to:
test new treatments, such as new chemotherapy drugs, hormonal therapies or targeted therapies
look at new combinations of existing treatments, or change the way they are given to make them more effective or reduce side effects
compare the effectiveness of drugs used to control symptoms
find out how cancer treatments work
find out which treatments are the most cost-effective.
Trials are the only reliable way to find out if a different type of surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiotherapy, or other treatment is better than what is already available.
Taking part in a trial
Back to top
You may be asked to take part in a treatment research trial. There can be many benefits in doing this. Trials help to improve knowledge about cancer and develop new treatments. You will be carefully monitored during and after the study.
Usually, several hospitals around the country take part in these trials. It’s important to bear in mind that some treatments that look promising at first are often later found not to be as good as existing treatments or to have side effects that outweigh the benefits.
If you decide not to take part in a trial, your decision will be respected and you don’t have to give a reason. However, it can help to let the staff know your concerns so that they can give you the best advice. There will be no change in the way that you’re treated by the hospital staff, and you’ll be offered the standard treatment for your situation.
Blood and tumour samples
Back to top
Blood and/or tumour samples may be taken to help make the right diagnosis. You may be asked for your permission to use some of your samples for research into cancer. If you are taking part in a trial, you may also be asked to give other samples, which may be frozen and stored for future use when new research techniques become available. These samples will have your name removed from them so you can’t be identified.
The research may be carried out at the hospital where you are treated or at another one. This type of research takes a long time, and results may not be available for many years. The samples will, however, be used to increase knowledge about the causes of cancer and its treatment. This research will hopefully improve the outlook for future patients.
Research into finding out more about the best treatments for breast cancer is ongoing. There's more information about current clinical trials on our website.
Trials are looking at different ways of giving radiotherapy and giving it over shorter periods of time. Doctors want to see if this reduces side effects, while being as effective as standard radiotherapy.
Trials are looking at intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) for breast cancer. It shapes the beams more accurately so the dose can be changed in different parts of the breast. This means you have a decreased dose to healthy breast tissue, reducing side effects.
Targeted therapy drugs
Trials are looking at giving targeted therapies, such as trastuzumab and lapatinib, over shorter times and in different ways. The Persephone trial is trying to find out if having trastuzumab for six months works as well as having it for a year and if it lowers the risk of heart damage.
Other trials are trying to find out if giving a targeted therapy with chemotherapy before surgery is better at shrinking the cancer than chemotherapy on its own. Others are looking at giving targeted therapy drugs with chemotherapy at different times.
Many trials are looking at the effectiveness of giving different combinations of chemotherapy drugs, over varying lengths of time. Doctors want to know what works best in reducing the risk of breast cancer coming back and causing fewer side effects.