Nearly One-Quarter of Completed Lung Cancer Clinical Trials Remain Unpublished

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A new analysis has found that the results of up to one-fourth of completed lung cancer clinical trials are not published. This finding was published in a research letter by Al-Shbool et al in JAMA Network Open. 

“It is surprising to see that a quarter of trials that have been completed end up not getting published,” said senior study investigator Chul Kim, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown and member of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, in a press release. “It is well known that it is difficult to get results of trials published if they can’t be conducted to completion for reasons such as low patient accrual or toxicity, but it is imperative that the data from the trial at least be put into a repository for future reference, such as—and that is currently not the case.”

Methods and Results

The researchers looked at trials conducted between 2000 and 2016, as that period reflects current clinical practice, especially since many trials take up to a decade to complete. Beyond the fact that nearly one-quarter of completed trials are not published, the investigators also found that:

  • Trials conducted by the pharmaceutical industry, which are often proprietary, were published less frequently than those sponsored by the federal government (eg, the National Institutes of Health) or academic institutions
  • Trials conducted at several institutions vs just one institute were more likely to be published
  • Trials that enrolled more than 500 people were more likely to be published than trials with small numbers of patients
  • Among trials that were not completed for reasons such as low patient accrual or toxicity, over 70% of such trials were never published.

“There are a number of initiatives in place to encourage better reporting of results, such as the AllTrials international campaign and the medRxiv research database,” said Dr. Kim. “But there is still a huge bias against publishing incomplete or negative findings and we owe it, above all else, to the patients who participated in these trials to show that regardless of the outcome, they made an important contribution to advancing the science of cancer research.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

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