Annals of Surgical Oncology

, Volume 20, Issue 10, pp 3184–3187 | Cite as

Ethical Issues of Participant Recruitment in Surgical Clinical Trials

Breast Oncology


Although the historical background of ethical principles of human subjects research are the same for surgery and nonsurgical fields, surgical clinical trials raise several specific ethical issues. Placebo arms in surgical trials are problematic because the closer the sham surgery is to a real operation, the greater the risks for subjects. In order to ethically enter subjects into a clinical trial, a researcher must have equipoise—that is, uncertainty about which treatment arm is more effective. Surgeons must diligently maintain skepticism about whether new treatments are actually better until objective data are available. The dynamic of informed consent between surgeons and patients may be negatively impacted if patients are convinced that new treatments are better even when there are no objective data. Although clinical trials in surgery often are challenging to develop and complete, there is an ethical and social responsibility for surgeons to participate in clinical trials so that data can be gathered to determine what treatments are safe and effective.


Sham Operation Ethical Challenge Human Subject Research Belmont Report Clinical Trial Participation 
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Copyright information

© Society of Surgical Oncology 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Surgery and MacLean Center for Clinical Medical EthicsUniversity of Chicago MedicineChicagoUSA

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