Monthly Archives: February 2016

Publishing all trial results: a covenant with patients

roger Wilson

Guest blogger – Roger Wilson, Honorary President of Sarcoma Patients Euronet

A recent study from the USA published in BMJ highlights an issue which has been lurking under the carpet, despite the work of the All Trials campaign.

The study looked at the publication record of academically led clinical trials in the USA. It was led by Yale University. More than 5000 trials were identified as starting between October 2007 and September 2010. A number of these were excluded, leaving 4347 across 51 academic institutions to be analysed. Overall 2892 (66.5%) had been published by July 2014. The study has a comprehensive analysis by type of trial and intervention, institution etc and certainly satisfied me it had considered all the issues. It came to the sad conclusion that publication rates are very variable and there is “poor performance across leading academic medical centers in the dissemination of clinical trial results.”

The focus for All Trials has been on industry studies and great steps have been achieved. However this BMJ study shows that the academic world needs closer examination and needs to be provoked into action too. In Europe it may be less of a problem but we don’t know, we certainly cannot be sure. We have clear commitments about publishing from the European Organisation for Research and Trials on Cancer (EORTC) and from many leading academic collaborative groups, national and multi-national. Individual institutions have made commitments too but what is the real story? We don’t know. Is the positive action from the prominent few allowing others to hide away, ignoring the issue in the hope it will go away?

We don’t actually need a study like the one from the USA. We could just start to take action.

The best way of finding out would be through the registration authorities. Each sponsor should provide a simple table of studies sponsored, completion information and planned publication dates, regularly updated and made publicly available. This table could be entitled The Patient Covenant.  Any sponsor (quite often these are academic bodies) which has outstanding trial publications should be unable to register any new trial until their obligations are met.

In addition any principal investigator taking a study to ethics for approval should have his study placed on hold if trial publications are outstanding. This would give a two-tier coverage and will stop institutions breaching their covenant with patients.

“As patients we should be quite uncompromising about trial publication”

As patients we should be quite uncompromising about trial publication. There are no excuses for not publishing. Failure to do so violates the explicit promise made to patients entering the trial that it aims to provide clinical evidence, even failure to achieve a trial objective can still provide evidence. Not publishing impairs understanding and threatens the integrity of clinical evidence, squandering resources in doing so.

I was very taken by four verbs used in the conclusion of the study published by BMJ. Think about them. I use them above and I list them out of context below because I think it adds to their impact:

  • impairs
  • violates
  • squanders
  • threatens

If you are reading this you know the context; avoid these blistering criticisms.

We welcome contributions to this blog. If you have a topic you would like to write about, please send your post to Corinne Hall – chall@eso.net You can find our guidelines here – How to write a blog

The real definition of active surveillance: what it means for a patient

Simon Crompton

Simon Crompton

It was only on the second day of ESO’s conference on active surveillance of low risk prostate cancer this weekend that the question was raised: what actually is active surveillance?

“Watchful waiting” and “active surveillance” were for many years regarded as the same thing. In fact, that Bible of medical veracity Wikipedia still equates the two – as observational approaches that allow men with low risk prostate cancer the opportunity to avoid or delay aggressive tests and treatments.

But the field has changed and specialised rapidly in the past 20 years, with the European School of Oncology taking a lead on extending knowledge in the field – organising three expert conferences, of which this was the latest. Those urologists, radiologists and public health experts attending such events are very clear that active surveillance is different from watchful waiting.

What’s the difference?

As Axel Semjonow from the University Hospital Muenster, Germany, explained: watchful waiting delays the need for palliative treatment, while active surveillance delays the need for curative treatment. Active surveillance is more likely to involve a schedule of assessment and tests, such as biopsy. Watchful waiting is more likely to apply to men with a life expectancy of less than ten years and will often follow active surveillance.

But these definitions only became widely used in 2008.

The rapid acceptance that active surveillance is an important strategy for treating low risk prostate cancer has had a lot to do with growing concerns about overdiagnosis and overtreatment in prostate cancer. For many men, biopsies, prostatectomy and radiotherapy produce effects far worse than their cancer ever would. A recent study showed that just 1% of men whose low risk prostate cancer is managed through active surveillance go on to die of the disease.

Conferences such as this are incredibly important for determining the best ways of selecting patients for active surveillance and of monitoring them while on the programme.

But active surveillance is still an emerging art, under-researched and ill-defined. The role of MRI scanning, for example, was a continual source of debate during the conference. We know a lot about its ability to diagnose prostate cancer. But in terms of its accuracy at monitoring disease progression, there are few yardsticks.

When cure seems the only goal

And, beyond the realms of such meetings, the very meaning of active surveillance is poorly understood. There are still varied definitions in scientific papers and guidelines. For prostate cancer patients, mere scientific statements of meaning do little good. Active surveillance offers many men the chance of a long and good quality of life without treatment side effects, but that might be hard to understand amid the stress of diagnosis when “cure” seems the only goal.

As several participants at the conference pointed out, amid the excitement of scientifically advancing this important field, the difficulty of patients understanding the approach and their personal risk should not be forgotten. Good communication has to be at the heart of programmes – and making sure that everyone understands what active surveillance really means today would be a good start.

Highlights from the conference:

 

Uganda says “we can” on World Cancer Day

Guest blogger – Esther Nakkazi, freelance science journalist

Guest blogger – Esther Nakkazi, freelance science journalist

“We can – I can – get involved in cancer prevention and control”

This is the theme for World Cancer Day being promoted by Ugandan health ministry.

And this year it seems that the government is not just talking the talk, it is walking the walk with plans to provide the legal basis and funding to support a comprehensive approach to cancer control in the country.

When the 10th Parliament convenes after the May elections, the Cancer Bill will be high up on the agenda.

Its primary objective will be to establish the Uganda Cancer Institute as an autonomous agency of Government mandated to undertake and coordinate the prevention and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases and conduct research.

With only 25 oncologists in the whole country, Uganda currently struggles to care for the almost 30,000 people who are diagnosed with cancer every year. Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of Health ahead of World Cancer Day, Jackson Orem, Director of the Uganda Cancer Institute, spoke of his hope of increasing survival from the current rate of 20% to 50%, through improved prevention, earlier detection and care. And he sounded confident the proposed measures would be debated as planned. “The Cancer Bill is already before the committee of health. It will be their priority in the next parliament,”he said.

With 60% of new cancer cases caused by infections, immunisation programmes will be key to cutting new cases. Cervical cancer, associated with infection with the HPV virus, is the single biggest cause of cancer death among women, with Kaposi sarcoma, associated with HIV infection, and liver cancer, associated with hepatitis also major killers.

Anthony Mbonye, the commissioner for community health services at Uganda’s Health Ministry, spoke of the government’s commitment to vaccination programmes. “Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination against cancer of the cervix is now available across the country and girls aged 10 years can access it in all our health facilities,” he said, adding that the Hepatitis B vaccine is now part of the routine childhood immunisations, and vaccination is also available for adults in high-burden districts, and will soon be available across the country.

As an autonomous agency, the Uganda Cancer Institute will be a corporate body governed by a Board of Directors. The Bill spells out that the Institute will undertake and coordinate the prevention and treatment of cancers in Uganda, including providing comprehensive medical care services to patients affected with cancer and other cancer-related diseases, and coordinating cancer-related activities both within and outside Uganda.

The Bill also provides for the Institute to conduct on-the-job training in oncology and related fields for its staff as well as to provide public education and training on cancer.

Importantly it includes provisions for funding the Institute and its work.

Orem hopes this will be an important step to establishing a truly national cancer service. “We want every cancer patient to be diagnosed and followed up. We need to get their contacts so that they are always within our systems,” he said.

But his aspirations go beyond Uganda’s own borders. “The UCI,” he said, “will be the centre for training oncologists in East Africa in an effort to increase human resource in the region.

Grand opening of the new Ugandan Cancer Institute buildings May 2015

Grand opening of the new Ugandan Cancer Institute buildings May 2015

We welcome contributions to this blog. If you have a topic you would like to write about, please send your post to Corinne Hall – chall@eso.net You can find our guidelines here – How to write a blog