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Learn About Cancer Clinical Trials

An Overview of the Cooperative Group System

The vast majority of cancer research conducted in the United States is carried out in cancer centers, cancer cooperative groups, and community clinical oncology programs. Cancer cooperative groups are networks of investigators and institutions located in academic centers and the community that work together to conduct clinical cancer research. More than half of the cancer clinical trials currently underway are being conducted by cancer cooperative groups.

The cooperative group system, together with the work of cancer centers throughout the United States, has a history of discovery and development that is longer-lived and more successful than any other in cancer research or medicine.

Since its beginnings in the 1950s, the cancer cooperative group system has produced a number of major advances in cancer clinical care. These advances have been possible only because of the contribution of the more than 500,000 patients who have been treated in the cooperative group framework of quality control and quality assurance.

For instance, evidence and knowledge gained from cancer cooperative group trials:

  • Resulted in long-term survival and cures in the majority of pediatric cancer cases.
  • Established the efficacy of less-invasive treatments for breast cancer, such as lumpectomy and chemotherapy, resulting in reduced use of radical mastectomy.
  • Established Taxol as a premier treatment for ovarian cancer and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Demonstrated treatment using alpha 2b interferon as the first, and currently only, effective adjuvant treatment for melanoma.
  • Showed that chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy significantly increased three and seven year survival in non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Established combined chemotherapy and radiation as the most effective treatment of advanced cervical cancer.

Activities in the cancer cooperative groups are largely funded as federal programs through the National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of 25 institutes and centers in the National Institutes of Health.

The modern cooperative groups trace their beginning to the mid-1950s, when a small group of hospitals along the East Coast banded together to conduct collaborative research on childhood acute leukemia. The system proved to be such a successful platform that it was adopted by the NCI.

More than 1500 institutions and thousands of professionals participate in cancer cooperative group trials and activities. Together these members enroll more than 20,000 patients on cancer clinical trials each year and account for approximately 60 percent of all patients enrolled each year in cancer clinical trials in the United States.