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Reality Check for the War on Cancer

Study Shows Clinical Trials Are Producing Successful Treatments
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 24, 2008 -- Are we winning the war on cancer, or at least treating the disease with better success?

A new study shows that clinical trials help lead to breakthroughs and sustainable, successful cancer treatments.

Researchers rounded up data from all completed phase III randomized clinical trials conducted by the National Cancer Institute cooperative groups and completed between 1955 and 2000. In all, 624 trials involving 216,451 patients were analyzed.

A phase III clinical trial evaluates how a new treatment compares to a standard treatment. It is called a randomized clinical trial because study participants are randomly assigned to receive either the standard treatment or the new treatment.

In this analysis, researchers mainly looked at how often a new successful intervention came out of experimental cancer treatments that undergo testing in randomized clinical trials.

Breakthrough interventions were discovered in 15% of these trials. In about 2% of trials, researchers found that experimental interventions cut the patient death rate by half or more; 30% of trial results were considered to have "statistically significant" results. Among these, 80% showed new treatments to be better than established treatments for cancer.

The researchers estimate 25% to 50% of new cancer treatments that make it all the way to the third stage of clinical trials will wind up being successful in treating patients. They stress that the pattern of success has become more stable over time.

The study was conducted by Benjamin Djulbegovic, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida.

The study appears in the March 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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