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Types of Clinical Trials

There are many different kinds of clinical trials, including:

  • Treatment trials study new drugs, combinations of drugs, or new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy. This could include, for example, pain medicines, steroid injections, radiation treatment, or spinal instrumentation.
  • Prevention trials look for better ways to prevent disease in people who have never had the disease or to prevent a disease from returning. These approaches may include medicines, vitamins, vaccines, minerals, or lifestyle changes.
  • Diagnostic trials are conducted to find better tests or procedures for diagnosing a particular disease or condition.
  • Screening trials test the best way to find certain diseases or health conditions through screening tests such as magnetic resonance imaging, for example.
  • Quality of Life trials study ways to improve comfort and the quality of life for individuals with a chronic illness.

Usually, clinical trials compare a new product or therapy to something else to see if it works as well or better to treat or prevent a disease or condition. In a blinded study, a participant may be randomly assigned to receive the test product or an existing, approved therapy. In some studies, participants may be assigned to receive a placebo (a product with no therapeutic action that looks like the test product). Comparison with a placebo can be the fastest and surest way to demonstrate therapeutic effectiveness of new products. Placebos are not used, however, where a patient would be put at risk, particularly in the study of treatments for serious illnesses. Most studies of this kind compare new products to an approved therapy. Potential participants are told before they enter a trial whether placebos are going to be used in the study.

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