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Participate in Cancer Screening Studies

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Participating in a cancer screening trial can help find new ways to detect cancer early.

There are many ways to get involved in cancer research. Participating in a cancer screening trial can help find new ways to detect cancer early when it may be more easily treated.

What are cancer screening studies?

Screening tests may include blood tests, devices, or procedures. An effective screening test will reduce the number of deaths from the cancer that is the subject of the screening test.

Researchers who conduct cancer screening studies want to know:

  • Does finding and treating cancer earlier, before people have any symptoms, save lives?
  • Is one screening test better than another for a certain type of cancer?
  • Does the screening test catch most cancers?
  • Do large numbers of people who receive the screening test undergo follow-up tests and procedures because the test sometimes shows signs of cancer when there is no cancer present?

What to expect

When you take part in a screening clinical trial, you may have a test that doctors think may find cancer early, such as an x-ray, CT scan, or blood test. 

Screening clinical trials take place over many years. The details of how long you will be involved will depend on the trial that you join. You will have the screening test that is being studied every year or two, for a total of three to five times. So, you could be involved in the screening part of the trial for from three to ten years. Then, you will be followed for three to seven more years after that. During the follow-up period, you may respond to surveys, have in-person visits with the study team, or provide your health records.

Some cancer screenings trials compare different groups of people. 

For instance, some trials compare people who received the screening test that is under study with people who didn’t receive the test. In other trials, people who received different types of screening tests will be compared with each other. The comparisons can show if there are differences in deaths from the cancer that was screened for. 

You could be assigned to any group when you join such a trial. The process of assigning people to groups by chance is called randomization. Learn more about how randomization works in clinical trials.

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Possible risks and benefits

Possible risks of taking part in a cancer screening trial include:

  • being treated for a cancer found through the screening test that would not have caused symptoms or death if you hadn’t had the test
  • getting test results that suggest you have cancer when you do not
  • problems or injuries from the screening procedure
  • problems or injuries from the treatment of cancers that would not have caused symptoms or death 

A benefit to taking part in a cancer screening clinical trial is taking an active role in your own future health. You are also helping doctors learn more about preventing cancer deaths by finding cancers early. Other benefits may include regular visits with a study health care provider. Also, you may get early treatment for a cancer that would have caused problems in the future. 

Your rights

Research staff will talk with you before you join a trial and tell you all about it. They will explain:

  • Why the trial is being done. 
  • What will happen during the trial. 
  • What risks you may face. 
  • How taking part in the trial may affect your daily life. 

Once you understand the study and decide to take part, you will be asked to sign a consent form. But even after you sign the form, you can change your mind and leave the study at any time. Learn more about how your rights and safety are protected.

Costs and expenses

Cancer screening clinical trials may have costs. Your health insurance may pay for some costs. Or the trial may cover some of them. Or the trial may reimburse you for out-of-pocket costs, such as parking. 

Taking part in screening trials also takes time. You may have costs for travel, childcare, and time away from work to take part.

Before you join a clinical trial, ask the research team for details on costs and which ones you might be required to pay. Also be sure you ask how often you are required to visit the study site in person and over what period of time. Learn more about costs connected to clinical trials, including who pays for them. 

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