A London hospitalâ€™s trial of a prostate cancer drug has been stopped early because it was so successful doctors felt it would be “unethical” to deny the treatment to other patients.
But that is absurd. As Ioannides and others now often point out, the early results of a research project are often not typical and the effect observed in the research below was actually quite small in absolute terms. It is only the relative results that look good and even the .3 they report below is dismally short of the 2.0 that the Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384) is the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an effect.
Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
“The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre’s yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower…. In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper’s data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added.”
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data not just a hasty first bite at it
Medics halted tests of the life-extending drug because it would have been â€œunethicalâ€ not to offer the treatment to all 922 cancer sufferers taking part in the trial.
Patients who were given the drug found that it eased pain and caused only minor side effects.
The new drug accurately targets tumours using alpha radiation, which doctors conducting the study said is the most effective form of radiation to eliminate cancer because it limits damage to surrounding tissue. Dr Chris Parker, lead researcher on the project at the Royal Marsden Hospital, said: â€œItâ€™s more damaging. It takes one, two, three hits to kill a cancer cell compared with thousands of hits for beta particles.â€
The drug, Radium-223 Chloride â€“ known as Alpharadin TM â€“ will also do less damage to surrounding tissue because it accurately targets calls, the doctors said. Speaking at an international gathering of cancer experts, Dr Parker, a consultant clinical oncologist, said: â€œThey have such a tiny range, a few millionths of a metre. So we can be sure that the damage is being done where it should be.â€
Patients taking the drug has a 30 per cent lower rate of death compared top patients taking a placebo pill. â€œIt would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo,â€ Dr. Parker said.
Radium-223 has â€œa completely different safety profileâ€ to chemotherapy, he added.
The trialâ€™s results were presented this week at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm.
The researchers, who have pointed out the urgent need for an effective treatment for prostate cancer, will now submit their findings for approval by regulators.
Prof Gillies McKenna, Cancer Research UKâ€™s radiotherapy expert said: â€œThis appears to be an important study using a highly targeted form of radiation to treat prostate cancer that has spread to the bones.
â€œThis research looks very promising and could be an important addition to approaches available to treat secondary tumours â€“ and should be investigated further.â€
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