Diarrhea in Placebo Arms of Cancer Studies

Cancer Diagn Progn. 2021 Nov 3;1(5):379-385. doi: 10.21873/cdp.10050. eCollection 2021 Nov-Dec.


Background/aim: Diarrhea is among the most common adverse events in early oncology clinical trials, and drug causality may be difficult to determine.

Materials and methods: This is a systematic literature review of placebo arms of randomized cancer trials.

Results: Anemia was reported in 95 of 127 placebo monotherapy cohorts. Publications involving healthy volunteers and cancer prevention studies reported lower frequencies than those with cancer patients. The average reported frequency of diarrhea grade 1 or higher among studies in cancer patients was 15%. The maximal reported frequencies for grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 were 56, 24, 6, 2, and 0%, respectively.

Conclusion: When higher diarrhea frequencies than those are observed in treatment arms of clinical trials, then drug causality is likely.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; adverse events; cancer; oncology; placebo; randomized; review; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review