Observational Studies: A Different Approach
Because clinical trials are complex, researchers sometimes use observational studies to study various treatments. These studies do not interfere or make changes to patient care. Instead, they gather data by observing and analyze what is happening with groups of patients who took certain drugs/ treatments.
Some examples of observational studies:
Case-control studies: Comparing a group of patients who already have cancer (cases) to a similar group without cancer (controls) to see if there are differences in past exposures or risk factors.
Cohort studies: Following two groups over time (for example cancer patients who opted for chemo vs radiation) to see how their outcomes differ.
Database studies: Looking at patient data from registries to analyze associations between exposures and outcomes.
One of the main advantages of observational studies is that they are faster and cheaper than clinical trials. Researchers are in a position to gather data on large groups of patients across multiple hospitals without undergoing complex recruitment / regulatory process. Access to this data gives them insight into real-world evidence.
But there are also some downsides to observational studies
Researchers have less control over confounding factors. They rely on data already being collected rather than tightly controlling variables.
Potential for bias - patients are not randomly assigned to treatments. This can have an impact on the results.
Limited data availability in registries – information on certain drugs / procedures may not be available.
Even though observational studies may not be the perfect solution, they can complement evidence from clinical trials, especially for rare cancers. They show how treatments perform in larger patient populations in everyday practice, not just under research conditions. This real-world evidence can provide insight in making treatment decisions. Clinical trials and observational studies both aim to improve cancer care and outcomes for patients like you. Understanding the differences just helps you be a more informed and empowered patient!