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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 143 No. 1920 (2013)

Cancer, meta-analysis and reporting biases: the case of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents

  • Thomy Tonia
  • Guido Schwarzer
  • Julia Bohlius
DOI
https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2013.13776
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2013;143:w13776
Published
05.05.2013

Abstract

Reporting and publication bias is a well-known problem in meta-analysis and healthcare research. In 2002 we conducted a meta-analysis on the effects of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) on overall survival in cancer patients, which suggested some evidence for improved survival in patients receiving ESAs compared with controls. However, a meta-analysis of individual patient data conducted several years later showed the opposite of our first meta-analysis, that is, evidence for increased on-study mortality and reduced overall survival in cancer patients receiving ESAs. We aimed to determine whether the results of our first meta-analysis could have been affected by publication and reporting biases and, if so, whether timely access to clinical study reports and individual patient data could have prevented this. We conducted a hypothetical meta-analysis for overall survival including all studies and study data that could have been available in 2002, at the time when we conducted our first meta-analysis. Compared with our original meta-analysis, which suggested an overall survival benefit for cancer patients receiving ESAs [hazard ratio (HR) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.67‒0.99], our hypothetical meta-analysis based on the results of all studies conducted at the time of the first analysis did not show evidence for a beneficial effect of ESAs on overall survival (HR 0.97, 95% CI 0.83‒1.12). Thus we have to conclude that our first meta-analysis showed misleading overall survival benefits due to publication and reporting biases, which could have been prevented by timely access to clinical study reports and individual patient data. Unrestricted access to clinical study protocols including amendments, clinical study reports and individual patient data is needed to ensure timely detection of both beneficial and harmful effects of healthcare interventions.

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