Ethical challenges in conducting clinical research in lung cancer
The article examines ethical challenges that arise with clinical lung cancer research focusing on design, recruitment, conduct and dissemination. Design: problems related to equipoise can arise in lung cancer studies. Equipoise is an ethics precondition for RCTs and exists where there is insufficient evidence to decide which of two or more treatments is best. Difficulties arise in deciding what level of uncertainty constitutes equipoise and who should be in equipoise, for example, patients might not be even where clinicians are. Patient and public involvement (PPI) can reduce but not remove the problems. Recruitment: (I) lung cancer studies can be complex, making it difficult to obtain good quality consent. Some techniques can help, such as continuous consent. But researchers should not expect consent to be the sole protection for participants’ welfare. This protection is primarily done elsewhere in the research process, for example, in ethics review; (II) the problem of desperate volunteers: some patients only consent to a trial because it gives them a 50/50 option of the treatment they want and can be disappointed or upset if randomised to the other arm. This is not necessarily unfair, given clinical equipoise. However, it should be avoided where possible, for example, by using alternative trial designs; (III) the so-called problem of therapeutic misconception: this is the idea that patients are mistaken if they enter trials believing this to be in their clinical best interest. We argue the problem is misconceived and relates only to certain health systems. Conduct: lung cancer trials face standard ethical challenges with regard to trial conduct. PPI could be used in decisions about criteria for stopping rules. Dissemination: as in other trial areas, it is important that all results, including negative ones, are reported. We argue also that the role of PPI with regard to dissemination is currently under-developed.