Use of research biopsies in clinical trials: are risks and benefits adequately discussed?

J Clin Oncol. 2013 Jan 1;31(1):17-22. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.43.1718. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


Purpose: Although the incorporation of research biopsies into clinical trials is increasing, limited information is available about how study protocols and informed consents integrate and describe their use.

Methods: All therapeutic clinical trials in which image-guided research biopsies were performed from January 1, 2005, to October 1, 2010, were identified from an interventional radiology database. Data from study protocols and informed consents were extracted and analyzed. Procedural complications were recorded.

Results: A total of 57 clinical trials were identified, of which 38 (67%) contained at least one mandatory biopsy. The analysis of the research biopsy tumor tissue was a study end point in 95% of trials. The primary indication for a research biopsy was for integral biomarker analysis in 32% and for correlative science in 68% of trials. A statistical analytic plan for the correlative science research biopsy tumor tissue was mentioned in 26%, described as exploratory in 51%, and not mentioned in 23% of trials. For studies with mandatory biopsies, biopsy was an eligibility criterion in 71% of trials, and a statistical justification for the research biopsy sample size was present in 50% of trials. A total of 745 research biopsies were performed on 576 patients. Overall and major complication rates were 5.2% (39 of 745 biopsies) and 0.8% (six of 745 biopsies), respectively. Complication rates for intrathoracic and abdominal/pelvic solid organ biopsies were 17.1% (36 of 211 biopsies) and 1.6% (three of 189 biopsies), respectively. Site-stratified research biopsy-related risks were discussed in five consents.

Conclusion: A better representation of the risks and benefits of research biopsies in study protocols and informed consents is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Biopsy / ethics*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / ethics*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics*
  • Medical Oncology / ethics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Risk Assessment