How clinical trial results are used

This page tells you about the results of clinical trials and what happens when a treatment is proven to work. There is information about

What happens to your results

Your doctor, or a researcher, enters your test and check up results onto a form. After all the information has been collected, they give it to a team of statisticians.

Statisticians use a computer to analyse the results of all the people taking part in a trial. Then the researchers produce a report about how well the treatment worked. And they look at how many patients had side effects.

Read about what trial results mean.

The trial reports never have any patient names or other details that could identify you. They are all confidential.

Find out how information about you is collected.

Publicising the trial results

Medical researchers have a responsibility to publish their results. After all, patients are giving up their time and energy to take part. It is important that the results become widely known so that cancer treatments can improve.

Results are usually published in medical journals (magazines). Sometimes the results are also presented at meetings and conferences attended by doctors and nurses involved in cancer research and cancer care.

Read about where and when trial results are published.

Results on our clinical trials database

We include plain English summaries of trial results on our clinical trials database, and are adding more each month.

We also cover the results of large and important trials on our research pages for specific types of cancer.

Go to the clinical trials database to find a trial.


Results for several trials of the same treatment may be analysed together and published. This is called a meta-analysis.

How a new treatment is adopted - licensing

If a series of trials shows a new treatment to be better, it will become the standard treatment. This can happen in a number of ways

  • The Royal Colleges may issue new clinical guidelines for doctors
  • The NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination of research may produce a report on treatment options for a particular disease
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) may issue treatment guidelines for the NHS in England and Wales
  • The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) may issue drug treatment guidelines for the NHS in Wales
  • The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) may issue treatment guidelines for the NHS in Scotland
  • The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (HPSS) may issue treatment guidelines in Northern Ireland
  • The Department of Health (DH) may issue a statement as guidance for doctors

Licensing or approving the treatment

If the treatment is a new drug, or a drug is being used for a different condition, it must be licensed before doctors can prescribe it. This is either done by the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) or, more often, by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Find out about drug licensing in the UK and Europe.

Once a drug is licensed, in theory doctors are able to prescribe it. But it is often some time before it is widely available on the NHS. Sometimes health bodies won’t fund a new drug because they don’t think the benefit justifies the expense.

Getting access to new treatments on the NHS

Post code prescribing was a big issue in the UK a few years ago. Decisions about whether to provide expensive treatments were taken locally by regional or district health authorities.

Sometimes if you lived in one part of the UK you could get a particular drug but in another part of the UK that drug may not have been available. Understandably, this upset a great many patients and doctors. It was very unfair.

Now organisations in the UK decide whether treatments can be used on the NHS. They are 

  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for England
  • The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) in Scotland
  • The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (HPSS) in Northern Ireland
  • The All Wales Medicine Strategy Group (AWMSG) in Wales.

These organisation look at the results of clinical trials and decide

  • If there is enough evidence from trials that a new treatment is better than existing treatments
  • If the benefits of the new treatment outweigh the increased cost of using it

If so, they can recommend that the treatment should be available on the NHS. They take all aspects of using a new treatment into account. For example, a new treatment may have fewer side effects than the standard treatment being used. Or it may be possible to have it as an outpatient instead of being in hospital. So the overall cost will be less.

The organisations weigh up all the evidence and consult experts in relevant fields. Once they have reached a decision, they publish the results in full. They also create a shorter leaflet for patients and the public.

The organisations can take some time to review all the evidence and come to their decision. The different organisations may also sometimes come to different decisions so there is sometimes still a difference in the availability of expensive drugs around the country for a while.

Sometimes new treatments are not approved for use on the NHS. If doctors or researchers don't agree with these decisions, they can appeal.

If drugs are not approved

Some drugs haven't been approved for use on the NHS by NICE. This could be because NICE haven't yet looked at them. It may also be because NICE have said they don't work well enough or are not cost effective.

The government has set aside money for people who live in England to pay for cancer drugs that haven't been approved by NICE and aren't available within the NHS in England. This is called the Cancer Drug Fund.

Related information

Read about

Last reviewed

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Find a trial

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