Sometimes fraud can be driven by good, but misguided intentions. Poisson, a professor of surgery at the University of Montreal, was a member of the prestigious National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), a joint U.S. and Canadian research effort that since 1958 has conducted studies on some of the most effective treatments for breast cancer. In 1994, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity found that for nearly a decade, Poisson had enrolled patients who were not eligible for trials and then falsified or fabricated their medical records to cover up their ineligibility, in an effort to involve as many women as possible in the studies. Investigators found two sets of patient books in Poisson’s lab, one marked ‘true’ and another labelled ‘false.’ The women were part of trials that established that lumpectomy plus radiation was as effective as mastectomy in lowering risk of recurrent breast cancer.
Other studies have since confirmed the benefits of lumpectomy combined with radiation, but the misrepresentation caused many who underwent the procedure to question whether they had made the right decision. “People who are not on the front line of the battle have no idea how frustrating it can be to prepare an eligible patient for a trial, with several pep talks and a great deal of discussion, explanation for the informed consent and to convince the patient to participate and — at the last moment — to realize the patient [is ineligible],” he wrote to the investigators in his defense. Poisson was banned from receiving U.S. government research funding for eight years.
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