February is National Cancer Prevention Month

National Cancer Prevention Month: Cancer Prevention Trials

National Cancer Prevention Month

February is National Cancer Prevention Month in the United States. About 30-50 percent of cancers are preventable through actions and lifestyle changes. Some of these prevention strategies include quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, getting vaccinated, and using sunscreen. 

But how do we know what actions to take to prevent cancer and other diseases? That is where prevention clinical trials come in.

What Are Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are research studies that look to answer questions about diseases such as cancer. People volunteer to participate in trials. Clinical trials are most associated with finding new treatments for diseases. In fact, all of today’s treatments for diseases were developed through clinical trials. Clinical trials can also study how to screen for and detect diseases, lessen symptoms of diseases or treatments, and improve quality of life for survivors. Other trials study how to prevent diseases. 

Cancer Prevention Trials 

Cancer prevention trials study ways to prevent someone from getting cancer or to lower their risk of developing cancer. Unlike treatment trials where participants already have cancer or another disease, people who participate in prevention trials are healthy volunteers. In cancer prevention trials, this means people who participate do not have cancer. Participants may or may not have an increased risk for cancer and/or a family history of cancer depending on the study and its goals. 

In a cancer prevention trial, some participants will be asked to take an action to see if it will prevent cancer or lower risk. The action depends on the study, but it could be exercising, taking medicine, following a specific diet, or something else. This group of participants is usually compared to another group of people who take a different action. For example, one group may take one vitamin, while the other group takes a different vitamin or a placebo. A placebo is a medicine that doesn’t have any effect. The decision of who is in which group is usually random.

All participants will be observed over a period of time. Researchers will observe closely to make sure the prevention strategy is safe for participants. If it is not safe or people experience negative outcomes (called adverse events), the study will be stopped. After the study period, participants’ health outcomes will be compared to see if one prevention strategy was more effective than the other.


Benefits & Risks

Prevention trials, like all clinical trials, have potential benefits and risks. If you are interested in participating in a trial, the study team will inform you of these so you can make a fully informed decision on whether or not to participate. 

In general, potential benefits of participating in a cancer prevention trial include:

  • Lowering your risk of cancer if the strategy is effective, and helping others lower their risk in the future
  • Helping to increase knowledge and move science forward
  • Taking an active role and interest in your health 

Potential risks or drawbacks to participating in a trial include:

  • Not lowering your risk of cancer if the strategy is not effective
  • Experiencing side effects or other negative responses, depending on the prevention strategy being studied
  • Incurring time and costs related to participation, depending on the study

These benefits, risks, and drawbacks are very dependent on the study. It’s important to hear from a study team and your doctor directly to be as informed as possible! 

Questions to Ask Your Provider

If you’re interested in participating in a prevention trial or want to learn more, your health care provider is a great place to start! Some questions to ask include:

  • Is there a cancer prevention trial I can participate in?
  • Why is this study being conducted?
  • What will I be asked to do? 
  • How long will the study last?
  • Are there risks and/or side effects to participating?
  • How can I benefit from this study?
  • Will I find out the study results when it is over?
  • What will participation cost? Does my insurance cover participation?
  • Is the study safe? What is being done to ensure my safety?
  • How will my data be collected, stored, and protected?