Patients with good performance status (PS) tend to be favored in randomized clinical trials (RCTs), possibly limiting the generalizability of trial findings. We aimed to characterize trial-related factors associated with the use of PS eligibility criteria and analyze patient accrual breakdown by PS.
Adult, therapeutic, multiarm phase III cancer-specific RCTs were identified through ClinicalTrials.gov. PS data were extracted from articles. Trials with a PS restriction ECOG score ≤1 were identified. Factors associated with PS restriction were determined, and the use of PS restrictions was analyzed over time.
In total, 600 trials were included and 238,213 patients had PS data. Of those trials, 527 studies (87.8%) specified a PS restriction cutoff, with 237 (39.5%) having a strict inclusion criterion (ECOG PS ≤1). Enrollment criteria restrictions based on PS (ECOG PS ≤1) were more common among industry-supported trials (P<.001) and lung cancer trials (P<.001). Nearly half of trials that led to FDA approval included strict PS restrictions. Most patients enrolled across all trials had an ECOG PS of 0 to 1 (96.3%). Even among trials that allowed patients with ECOG PS ≥2, only 8.1% of those enrolled had a poor PS. Trials of lung, breast, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary cancers all included <5% of patients with poor PS. Finally, only 4.7% of patients enrolled in trials that led to subsequent FDA approval had poor PS.
Use of PS restrictions in oncologic RCTs is pervasive, and exceedingly few patients with poor PS are enrolled. The selective accrual of healthier patients has the potential to severely limit and bias trial results. Future trials should consider a wider cancer population with close toxicity monitoring to ensure the generalizability of results while maintaining patient safety.