Population, Clinical, and Scientific Impact of National Cancer Institute's National Clinical Trials Network Treatment Studies

Joseph M. Unger, Michael Leblanc, Suzanne George, Norman Wolmark, Walter J. Curran, Peter J. O'Dwyer, Mitchell D. Schnall, Robert S. Mannel, Sumithra J. Mandrekar, Robert J. Gray, Fengmin Zhao, Mariama Bah, Riha Vaidya, Charles D. Blanke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE In the United States, the National Cancer Institute National Cancer Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) groups have conducted publicly funded oncology research for 50 years. The combined impact of all adult network group trials has never been systematically examined.METHODSWe identified randomized, phase III trials from the adult NCTN groups, reported from 1980 onward, with statistically significant findings for ≥ 1 clinical, time-dependent outcomes. In the subset of trials in which the experimental arm improved overall survival, gains in population life-years were estimated by deriving trial-specific hazard functions and hazard ratios to estimate the experimental treatment benefit and then mapping this trial-level benefit onto the US cancer population using registry and life-table data. Scientific impact was based on citation data from Google Scholar. Federal investment costs per life-year gained were estimated. The results were derived through December 31, 2020.RESULTSOne hundred sixty-two trials comprised of 108,334 patients were analyzed, representing 29.8% (162/544) of trials conducted. The most common cancers included breast (34), gynecologic (28), and lung (14). The trials were cited 165,336 times (mean, 62.2 citations/trial/year); 87.7% of trials were cited in cancer care guidelines in favor of the recommended treatment. These studies were estimated to have generated 14.2 million (95% CI, 11.5 to 16.5 million) additional life-years to patients with cancer, with projected gains of 24.1 million (95% CI, 19.7 to 28.2 million) life-years by 2030. The federal investment cost per life-year gained through 2020 was $326 in US dollars.CONCLUSIONNCTN randomized trials have been widely cited and are routinely included in clinical guidelines. Moreover, their conduct has predicted substantial improvements in overall survival in the United States for patients with oncologic disease, suggesting they have contributed meaningfully to this nation's health. These findings demonstrate the critical role of government-sponsored research in extending the lives of patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2020-2028
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Apr 10 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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