Research – clinical trials for children's cancers

This information was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

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. Clinical trials mean there are now better results for curing children's cancer compared with just a few years ago.

Types of research

Cancer research trials:

  • test new treatments, such as new chemotherapy drugs
  • look at new combinations of existing treatments, or change the way they’re 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
  • look at improving the quality of life and services for children and young people who have been treated for cancer
  • look at the biology of cancer and its treatment
  • 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, radiotherapy or other treatment is better than what's already available.

Taking part in a trial

Many children are offered treatment that’s part of a clinical trial, so you’re likely to be asked for your consent for your child to take part. There can be many benefits in doing this. Trials help to improve knowledge about cancer and develop new treatments.

Your child will be carefully monitored during and after the trial. Usually, several hospitals around the UK, and increasingly in other countries, take part in these trials, which are coordinated by UK oncologists and haematologists. If you agree to your child taking part in a trial, you will be asked to sign a consent form.

Randomisation

In trials looking at whether a new treatment is better than the best available standard treatment, a process called randomisation may be used. A computer will randomly allocate your child to have a particular treatment in the trial. This is done so that each treatment group has a similar mix of children of different ages, sex and general health.

Randomisation is important because if researchers were to decide who should get which treatment, they might be influenced by what they know about their patients. Consciously or unconsciously, they might put patients who they thought were more likely to respond to a new treatment into the new treatment group. This would introduce bias, making the results unreliable. You can ask your child’s doctor to explain this to you in more detail if you would like more information.

Blood and tumour samples

Blood samples and bone marrow or tumour biopsies may be taken from your child to help make the right diagnosis. You may be asked for your permission to use some of the left over samples for research into childhood cancer. Your child's name will be removed from the samples so they can't be identified. Some samples may be frozen and stored for future use when new research techniques are available.

The research may be carried out at the hospital where your child is treated or it may be at another one. This type of research takes a long time, so you are unlikely to hear any results. However, the samples will be used to increase knowledge about the causes and treatments of childhood cancer, which will hopefully improve the outlook for children with cancer in the future.

You may find the CCLG’s booklet A guide to clinical trials for young people with cancer and their parents helpful.

Children's cancer information from CCLG

This information about children’s cancer was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). It has been reviewed and edited by their publications committee, which includes medical experts from all fields of children’s cancer and care.

Back to Treating children's cancer

Alternative treatments

Alternative treatments are unproven therapies that aim to treat cancer. They may cause problems when used with or without conventional treatments.