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Medical News & Perspectives
July 19, 2006

Are Placebos in Advanced Cancer Trials Ethically Justified?

JAMA. 2006;296(3):265-266. doi:10.1001/jama.296.3.265

Atlanta—While the value of including placebo groups in clinical trials is undisputed, whether and how to give placebos to patients with advanced cancer and to other terminally ill individuals is not so clear. Individuals with expertise in ethics, regulation, and clinical trial design weighed in on the question at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

In the past, patients with advanced cancers were never given placebos in clinical trials. For one thing, using a placebo was not usually feasible in blinded studies because of the toxic effects of traditional cytotoxic agents. But now, with the development of molecularly targeted agents, there are reduced adverse effects that make it conceivable to randomize patients to a placebo in such trials. But ethical issues remain.