Publication Bias in Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Clinical Trials

J Gastrointest Cancer. 2024 Mar 28. doi: 10.1007/s12029-024-01047-1. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Evidence-based medicine requires evaluation of the medical literature to guide clinical reasoning and treatment recommendations. The presence of publication bias towards exclusion of non-statistically significant clinical trials may be leading to an incomplete evaluation of the literature and cause potentially incomplete guidance for patients. We aimed to compare publication rates and impact of publications of positive and negative outcome clinical trials.

Methods: We queried the US National Library of Medicine Clinical Trials database identifying clinical trials with reported results on the topics of pancreatic, liver, and gastric cancer. A "positive" trial was defined as having a statistically significant difference between the treatment arms, while a "negative" did not. Data collected included termination cause, intervention, funding type, publication rates, and journal characteristics.

Results: In total, 535 clinical trials were examined, across all pathologies clinical trials with significant findings for the primary outcome were published at a higher rate (99%) compared to those with non-significant findings (77%) (p < 0.01). Significantly, more studies with significant findings reached at least 80% of their estimated enrollment goal versus non-significant studies, 72% and 53% respectively (p < 0.01). Three of four metrics for impact of publication showed no difference between significant and non-significant studies once they reached publication.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that clinical trials of three of the most common upper gastrointestinal malignancies have a publication bias towards studies with significant primary outcome findings. This study has implications to the way evidence-based medicine is practiced as the medical literature appears to be failing to capture important data for consideration of clinical decision making.

Keywords: Clinical trials; Gastric cancer; Liver cancer; Pancreatic cancer; Publication bias.