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The Gold Standard of Clinical Cancer Trials Tarnished

Posted Dec 21 2010 7:42am

An editorial in this year's New York Times entitled Faltering Cancer Trials   details how the US clinical cancer trial process is nearing “a state of crisis” according to a report issued by experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences reviewing clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.


The report highlights some surprising statistics, including the shocker that up to 40% of all advanced clinical cancer trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute are never completed.


Although these cancer studies are meant to provide a credible review of results that is more objective than the biased studies sponsored by self-serving manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and devices, it turns out that many of these reviews are never in fact completed.


The report found that a typical cancer trial must navigate past dozens of overlapping reviews and approval processes so cumbersome that the average time between developing the concept for a cancer treatment study and getting it started is about two and a half years.  The report points out that this trend is destructive to the future efficacy and applicability of trians, as  the longer a study takes to get started, the more likely it is to become scientifically out of date, and the less likely it is that doctors or patients will want to participate.


The National Cancer Instiutes program includes more than 25,000 patients, 3,100 institutions and 14,000 investigators participating in a clinical trial each year.  The program is one of the most expansive and important of its kind in the world, but while it provides a valuable service, it is important for health care consumers to approach the clinical trial as an additional data point, and not the gold standard for determining efficacy of an alternative cancer treatment.

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