Understanding Clinical Trials

Not sure what a clinical trial is or why take part? By understanding more about clinical trials, you will be able to decide whether a clinical trial is right for you, your family member or friend.

Clinical trials test new treatments, new ways of giving existing treatments or new combinations of treatments and ways to improve the quality of life of people affected by cancer.

Clinical trials allow patients with different cancer types, including very rare cancer types, to access new treatments that would not normally be available to them.

Clinical trials aim to prove whether a test or treatment is safe and more helpful than what is currently used to manage that cancer type. If a clinical trial can prove that a new treatment is better than the current options available to patients, it could change how cancer is treated.

Clinical trials are divided into stages:

  • The earliest stage of testing, known as phase 1, is when trials are tested in a small group of patients, sometimes for the first time in humans
  • As we better understand the new treatment, larger numbers of patients are treated in later phase trials called phase 2, 3 and 4

To join a clinical trial you may be required to meet a certain criteria. For example, this could relate to age, cancer type or medical history etc. These criteria help ensure the safety of those participating in the clinical trial. Some people may be unable to join a certain clinical trial because they do not meet the criteria.

Before you join a clinical trial and throughout the clinical trial, the clinical trials team will ask for your permission. The process of giving your permission is called 'informed consent'. Providing 'informed consent' means that you understand the purpose, and the risks and possible outcomes of the study and are taking part on your own free will.

During the clinical trial we will monitor your health and wellbeing very closely, this may require you to complete more tests and paperwork than you would normally expect.

We cannot say whether you should join a specific clinical trial or not. You need to discuss this with your treating team, your own doctor, family and friends to see if a clinical trial is a right fit for you.


  • All cancer treatment and interventions offered to patients today have come about because of a clinical trial.
  • Clinical trials provide more information on cancer types and how to best treat them. Some people choose to participate in a clinical trial in order to help future patients with the same condition.
  • Clinical trials testing new treatments allow patients to access treatments that are not yet available to the public.
  • Patients on a clinical trial may be more closely monitored than usual. This gives the patient more contact with their treating team.


  • New treatments may not prove to be effective.
  • Patients may be worried about participating in a clinical trial, as our understanding of how the patient’s cancer or body responds to the new treatment is limited.
  • Clinical trials can be intensive and may require many visits to the centre for reviews, tests and scans. This may not be the best fit for some patients who live far away or have other work or family commitments.

Peter Mac is committed to the safety and wellbeing of patients, including the protection of their rights, confidentiality and privacy under the current laws of Victoria and Australia.