The gist: The drug docetaxel was widely used to treat patients with metastatic prostate cancer before phase III clinical trials showed it was better than standard treatment. This is significant for a few reasons. First, it shows that many doctors are willing to prescribe promising drugs “off-label,” before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved them for treating certain conditions. It also shows that a drug that is used for one type of cancer is more likely to be prescribed off-label for other types of cancer. Some are concerned that off-label prescriptions undermine the clinical trial process and put some patients at risk by giving them drugs that may not turn out to be better.
‘Docetaxel was being widely used by patients with metastatic prostate cancer before phase III evidence that it was more effective than standard-of-care for patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer, according to an analysis of Medicare claims from before and after the trial results and approval of docetaxel by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The uptake of new treatments, or diffusion, “prior to definitive evidence indicates the prevalence of off-label chemotherapy use,” wrote Unger et al in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute…
“Rapid and widespread use of docetaxel was not observed among all study participants receiving chemotherapy for metastatic prostate cancer. Statistically significant docetaxel uptake (P < .01) was seen in patients older than 65 years of age, blacks, patients in lower income areas, and those who experienced poverty. This observation ‘presents opportunities to improve the uptake of proven new therapies in subpopulations,’ the authors wrote, adding that direct-to-consumer advertising ‘could be a useful tool.’
Another potential method cited for encouraging more rapid adoption of new treatments was ‘enhancing communication channels among physicians, especially between key opinion leaders and their colleagues,’ the authors noted. ‘One factor that has been repeatedly identified to increase adoption rates is attendance at scientific symposia, which serve as forums for disseminating information about new treatments.’ ”