Cancer research often falls short: study

April 29, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan

Cancer research tends to involve small studies focused on a single therapy, often falling short of scientific standards seen in other medical investigations, said a study released Monday.

The trend may be driven by a desire to speed treatments to market, but raises questions about how well experimental -fighting therapies will work in practice, said the findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"By increasing transparency, I think we can understand what works and what doesn't," lead author Bradford Hirsch, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University, told AFP.

Researchers looked at the US government's database of clinical trials and found that about 22 percent of all research is devoted to cancer, the largest single discipline, followed by mental health (nine percent) and infectious disease (8.3 percent).

Sixty-two percent of were based on one drug, without comparing it to other therapies, said the analysis of nearly 41,000 studies from 2007 to 2010 contained in the online registry www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Only around a quarter of other research specialties did these types of single-arm studies.

tended to be smaller in enrollment, with a median size of 51 patients compared to 72 elsewhere, and nearly two-thirds of was not randomized, compared to less than a quarter in other fields.

Also, clinicians were less likely to be "blinded" to the drug being used to avoid bias—nearly nine out of ten cancer trials were "open-label" compared to just under half in other studies.

The analysis is part of a project known as the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative, a partnership between Duke and the to improve .

Nearly 42 percent of the studies reviewed were funded by drug companies. But the majority of studies were funded otherwise: 15.3 percent by government and 42.9 percent by outside funders including academic groups and foundations.

"The design of trials is often blamed on drug companies. The feeling is that they fund the vast majority of research. But we found that ultimately that was not the case," Hirsch told AFP.

"The positive is, I think, that there is a significant opportunity to help guide the portfolio and improve the rigor of the trials as a result of that finding."

The analysis also found that certain cancers may be receiving more research attention than they are due.

Lymphoma, for example, accounted for 6.6 percent of cancer research, while its incidence in the population is 4.8 percent and its mortality rate is 3.8 percent.

Other cancers, like lung cancer and bladder cancer may deserve more study.

Lung cancer was the focus of nine percent of in cancer, but makes up 14.5 percent of all diagnoses, and it has the highest mortality rate (27.6 percent of all cancer deaths in 2010).

And although the amount of breast cancer research was in proportion to its prevalence in the general population, one in four breast cancer studies focused not on treatment but on supportive care, diagnosis or prevention.

The study also found that just over a third of cancer trials registered by the US government take place entirely outside the United States.

Peter Bach, a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, wrote in an accompanying JAMA editorial that he hopes more can be learned about how to improve the state of cancer research.

The study is "necessarily a flyover, a view from high altitude, and thus may gloss over some important dimensions of the research enterprise, but I am optimistic that the database will yield important insights as it continues to be augmented," Bach wrote.

The "most intriguing finding" is how "it is readily apparent that the clinical research endeavor as a whole is not a coordinated effort guided by any particular set of agreed-upon principles," he said.

Explore further: Cancer studies often lack necessary rigor to answer key questions

Related Stories

Cancer studies often lack necessary rigor to answer key questions

April 29, 2013
Fueled in part by an inclination to speed new treatments to patients, research studies for cancer therapies tend to be smaller and less robust than for other diseases.

Testing for mutations identified in squamous cell lung cancer tumors helps personalize treatment

May 17, 2012
Screening lung cancer tumor samples for cancer-causing, or "driver," genetic mutations can help physicians tailor patients' treatments to target those specific mutations. While scientists have identified cancer-causing mutations ...

Common diabetes drug may help treat ovarian cancer

December 3, 2012
A new study suggests that the common diabetes medication metformin may be considered for use in the prevention or treatment of ovarian cancer. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer ...

Several cancers underrepresented in clinical trials

April 18, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Several cancers with a high burden of disease are not receiving the clinical trial investment they require, according to a University of Sydney study.

Cancer vaccine impact limited unless drug industry focuses on difficult-to-treat tumors

November 21, 2011
Drug companies currently developing therapeutic cancer vaccines may be determining the cancers they target based on the number of annual cases, not the number of deaths they cause.

Recommended for you

Single blood test screens for eight cancer types

January 18, 2018
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer.

Researchers find a way to 'starve' cancer

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to starve a tumor and stop its growth with a newly discovered small compound that blocks uptake of the vital ...

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.