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Breast Cancer Drug Studies Rife with Spin, Bias

Reports of breast cancer drug trials in the scientific literature are far from fair and balanced, according to researchers at the University of Toronto this week

The group published a study in Annals of Oncology yesterday showing that outcomes from phase III breast cancer trials are widely reported with both spin and bias.

Overall, the researchers examined reports of 164 randomized controlled phase III clinical trials, culled from a group of 568 published between January 1995 and August 2011.

According to the group, spin is a problem in about a third of trials that fail to show a benefit for the treatment they are examining. In these cases, "spin was used frequently to influence, positively, the interpretation of negative trials, by emphasizing the apparent benefit of a secondary end point," the researchers wrote.

The team also found widespread bias in reporting adverse outcomes like toxicity, particularly in trials that actually did have good luck in showing their treatment worked. "A possible explanation for this finding may be that investigators and/or sponsors then focus on efficacy as the basis of registration and downplay toxicity to make the results more attractive," the group writes.

Overall, the authors suggest the study reveals prevalent spin and bias in reporting of clinical trial outcomes, calling for the attention of journal editors and regulators toward better guidelines for reporting both efficacy and toxicity.