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To evaluate the impact of an educational booklet on women's knowledge of and willingness to participate in a randomized clinical trial of treatment for breast cancer.Women undergoing surgery for newly diagnosed early stage breast cancer were randomized to receive, or not, an information booklet explaining the need for and manner in which randomized trials are conducted.Eighty-three women with newly diagnosed early stage breast cancer completed a questionnaire assessing attitudes to random clinical trials (RCTs) and were randomized to receive usual information treatment options provided from their oncologist, or the educational booklet in addition to usual information from their oncologist (42 usual information, 41 booklet). Fewer women who received the clinical trials booklet (40% versus 47%) would consider participating in the hypothetical clinical trial (P = 0.6). Mean knowledge scores increased for both groups; moreover, women who did not receive the booklet showed similar improvements to women who received the booklet [mean difference 0.09. 95% confidence interval (CI) −0.66 to 0.83]. In a multivariate analysis women who would consider participating in the clinical trial were more anxious [odds ratio (OR) 5.9, P = 0.02] had involved lymph nodes (OR 5.8, P = 0.02) and were less influenced by negative aspects of clinical trials (OR 7.7, P = 0.0001). After adjustment for these variables women who received the educational booklet were significantly less likely to consider trial participation (OR 0.22, P = 0.05).Educating women about clinical trials in this manner appears ineffective in improving recruitment to RCTs. Women appear to be more influenced by their perception of risk than understanding. This finding has ethical implications for communication of information about RCTs.