Randomised controlled trials of palliative care - a survey of the views of advanced cancer patients and their relatives

Eur J Cancer. 2008 Sep;44(13):1820-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2008.05.003. Epub 2008 Jun 10.


Purpose: To determine if patients with advanced cancer are interested in participation in palliative care research, particularly RCTs, and the importance of demographic factors in decision making. It sought relatives' views towards supporting trial entry, and assessed if demographic factors can predict participation.

Methods: A questionnaire was developed through multiprofessional focus groups, patient and relative interviews and pilot studies. Consecutive patients known by the palliative care service to have advanced disease were approached. Relatives of consenting patients completed a parallel survey. K-means cluster analysis was used to differentiate between those willing and unwilling to participate. Multivariate logistic regression identified demographic factors predicting willingness.

Results: One hundred and one patients and 100 relatives were included. 92% of patients would participate in studies involving simple interventions, whereas only 26% would consider studies of complex interventions. A similar pattern was observed for relative support. Over 75% of participants expressed altruistic views. Concepts of 'randomisation', 'placebo-control' and 'blinding' deterred about one-half. Many were prepared to complete short questionnaires, accept extra medications, investigations, hospital visits or admissions within a trial context but the possibility of side-effects was a major deterrent. Patient age was the only significant predictor of willingness to participate, with older patients less likely to participate.

Conclusion: Despite the likely absence of individual benefit, many patients appear willing to participate in palliative care research. Trial design and the possibility of side-effects proved very influential in their decision making. Clinical trials in palliative care are more likely to be successful if developed in accordance with the views of patients and their relatives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires