Characteristics of post hoc subgroup analyses of oncology clinical trials: a systematic review

Jawad Alrawabdeh, Marah Alzu'bi, Muntaser Alzyoud, Nada Odeh, Yazan Hamadneh, Hira Mian, Ghulam Rehman Mohyuddin, Amar H. Kelkar, Aaron M. Goodman, Rajshekhar Chakraborty, David A. Russler-Germain, Nikita Mehra, Diva Baggio, Edward R. Scheffer Cliff, Samer Al Hadidi

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1 Scopus citations


Background: Subgroup analyses in clinical trials assess intervention effects on specific patient subgroups, ensuring generalizability. However, they are usually only able to generate hypotheses rather than definitive conclusions. This study examined the prevalence and characteristics of post hoc subgroup analysis in oncology. Methods: We systematically reviewed published subgroup analyses from 2000 to 2022. We included articles presenting secondary, post hoc, or subgroup analyses of interventional clinical trials in oncology, cancer survivorship, or cancer screening, published separately from the original clinical trial publication. We collected cancer type, year of publication, where and how subgroup analyses were reported, and funding. Results: Out of 16 487 screened publications, 1612 studies were included, primarily subgroup analyses of treatment trials for solid tumors (82%). Medical writers contributed to 31% of articles, and 58% of articles reported conflicts of interest. Subgroup analyses increased significantly over time, with 695 published between 2019 and 2022, compared to 384 from 2000 to 2014. Gastrointestinal tumors (25%) and lymphoid lineage tumors (39%) were the most frequently studied solid and hematological malignancies, respectively. Industry funding and reporting of conflicts of interest increased over time. Subgroup analyses often neglected to indicate their secondary nature in the title. Most authors were from high-income countries, most commonly North America (45%). Conclusions: This study demonstrates the rapidly growing use of post hoc subgroup analysis of oncology clinical trials, revealing that the majority are supported by pharmaceutical companies, and they frequently fail to indicate their secondary nature in the title. Given the known methodological limitations of subgroup analyses, caution is recommended among authors, readers, and reviewers when conducting and interpreting these studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpkad100
JournalJNCI Cancer Spectrum
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023


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