How to Join a Clinical Trial

Joining a clinical trial is a process that involves several different steps. Here at the HICCC, our clinical trials team – doctors, researchers, nurses, and coordinators – are dedicated to guiding you through each step of the process.

1) Understand your options

The first step to join a clinical trial is to review all available treatment options, including clinical trials, with your doctor. You should talk to your doctor and care team about joining a clinical trial and discuss any clinical trials that they feel would benefit you. You can also search for a clinical trial specific to your cancer type on our website, and find more information about all cancer clinical trials on the NCI website.

2) Review the eligibility criteria

After looking at all the available clinical trials, it is important to review their specific eligibility criteria. Not every clinical trial will be right for you - each clinical trial has a unique set of guidelines for patients that can participate. These guidelines are based on certain characteristics, such as age, sex, cancer type, and stage of your cancer. If you have questions about any clinical trial and eligibility criteria, you can ask your doctor or our nurse navigator at cancerclinicaltrials@cumc.columbia.edu.

3) Go over the clinical trial plan

Once you have found a clinical trial that may work for you, you can contact our clinical trials team at cancerclinicaltrials@cumc.columbia.edu. Our nurse navigator will help make your initial appointment with a Columbia oncologist who specializes in your type of cancer, and will help coordinate the medical information that the clinical trials team needs. At your first appointment, the research nurses and clinical research coordinators will discuss the study with you and your oncologist, and answer any questions you might have. The clinical trials team will go over the study protocol, a plan that describes what will be done during the trial, how the trial will be conducted, and why each part of the trial is necessary. The team will also go through the eligibility criteria with you and determine if you meet the guidelines needed to participate in the trial.

4) Informed consent and additional screening

After your initial appointment to determine if you are potentially eligible, our clinical trials team will guide you through the informed consent process to make sure that you understand everything that is involved in the study before you agree to join. This process is designed to protect your safety and advise you of all the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial. These documents are often long and have a lot of information about the clinical trial and treatment plan, and the clinical trials team will answer any questions you have about the information.  After all your questions have been answered and you feel comfortable moving forward on the clinical trial, you will sign a consent form. It is important to know that this consent form is not a binding contract – you can decide to leave a clinical trial at any time and for any reason.

Once you have signed the consent form, the clinical trials team will need to start the screening process and arrange testing appointments, such as blood work or x-rays, prior to the study. They will also register you onto the clinical trial, and then the treatments can begin.  This process can take a short time, such as a few days, to a few weeks or even longer.