What is a Clinical Trial?

A cancer research study, often called a clinical trial, involves people that volunteer to help doctors and researchers find better ways to prevent, treat or diagnose diseases such as cancer.  There are several types of cancer clinical trials – some test new ways to treat cancer, others test new methods of prevention, detection or diagnosis.  Some clinical trials help evaluate and improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

Most clinical research that involves the testing of a new treatment progresses in an orderly series of steps, called phases. Phases allow for safe treatment and later show if it works better than standard treatment.

Clinical trials are usually classified into one of four phases:

  • Phase I Clinical Trials: Phase I trials look at how a new drug should be given and what dose is safe.  A phase I trial usually enrolls only a small number of patients, sometimes as few as a dozen.
  • Phase II Clinical Trials: A phase II trial continues to test the safety of the drug, and begins to look at how well the new drug works. Phase II studies focus on a particular type of cancer.
  • Phase III Clinical Trials: These trials test a new drug, a new combination of drugs, or a new surgical procedure in comparison to the current standard treatment. Volunteers are assigned at random to the standard group or the new treatment group.  Phase III trials often enroll large numbers of people and may be conducted at many doctors' offices, clinics, and cancer centers nationwide.
  • Phase IV Clinical Trials:  These trials are done after the treatment has been approved and collects long-term information about the treatment.

For additional information about clinical trials at the Cancer Institute contact us at 732-235-7356. 

Find a Clinical Trial at Rutgers Cancer Institute


Dr. Howard Hochster, Associate Director for Clinical Research spoke to NJTV recently about the promise of immunotherapy and the trials being done at Rutgers Cancer Institute to advance knowledge around newly developed cancer drugs. Read more