Sometimes in the business world, companies need to bring in an outside consultant to evaluate their workflow and tools because over time the management has gotten too caught up in “the process” and lost sight of their core objectives.
The same can be said of prostate cancer research, apparently.
But researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Australia have just walked a few steps back to create a “checklist” designed to let medical professionals cut through the clutter and confusion of conflicting and disparate clinical studies.
"At the moment, we are effectively comparing apples and oranges when it comes to prostate cancer studies," explains chief investigator, Thomas Lam, a consultant urological surgeon at NHS Grampian and an honorary senior clinical lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.
"Some studies only look at incontinence, some look only at erectile dysfunction, others will look at different outcomes, and they often have different scales of success and failure. As a result it is incredibly difficult for patients and surgeons to make informed decisions about which treatments will yield the best results for them personally."
Over the past three years the Aberdeen team pored over all the relevant prostate cancer research. They were surprised to find dozens of different ways to define and measure the same outcomes. This clearly would make it very difficult for medical professional to compare and contrast the findings of different studies looking at the same treatments.
After the systematic review, the researchers held extensive interviews with patients, and had those patients as well as medical professionals complete a lengthy questionnaire.
The Aberdeen team filtered their research into a list of 19 core outcomes which every localized prostate cancer trial should record. This list of outcomes applies across all treatments aimed at curing prostate cancer, whether it be surgery to remove the prostate, external radiation or active surveillance.
Dr Steven MacLennan, Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen note that "This is the first step in standardizing the outcomes we use to demonstrate how effective treatments are in prostate cancer research - ultimately helping men with prostate cancer and the doctors who treat them make a more informed choice about treatment options.
"There are research trials being done comparing treatments for prostate cancer all the time, but the outcomes they are recording are not all uniform and so it is difficult to compare like for like. If all trials record the same outcomes in the same way, it will be far easier for patients and surgeons to interpret the data and understand clearly what their options are with regards to treatment and what the likely side effects could be."
The research was published in BJU Internaional.