Vinay Prasad is an assistant professor ofmedicine at Oregon Health and Science University. His research focuses on health policy, drug prices and evidence-based medicine. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

“There’s a debate in oncology, as in all fields of medicine, which is that if something is highly promising, is it unethical to test that? I would say that if you look at the history of medicine, there have been many things people thought were sure things. Remember the ’90s’ autologous stem cell transplant for breast cancer? That was not tested in randomized studies. Insurers were vilified for not covering it. But by the early 2000s we finally did do randomized studies and that turned out not to work.

“The history of oncology is a history of missteps, missteps made by very thoughtful people, good people, on the basis of uncontrolled data. I would argue and others argue that it’s unethical not to do those studies, to continue to subject thousands and thousands of people to treatments that we really don’t know are better than alternatives.”

Vinay Prasad , assistant professor of medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

This excerpt was from the December 6 Washington Post Live program Chasing Cancer. Video of the discussions can be see at