The value of screening preoperative chest x-rays: a systematic review

Can J Anaesth. Jun-Jul 2005;52(6):568-74. doi: 10.1007/BF03015764.


Purpose: Chest x-ray (CXR) is the most frequently ordered radiological test in Canada. Despite published guidelines, variable policies exist amongst different hospitals for ordering of preoperative CXRs. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the literature on the value of screening CXRs and establish evidence to support guidelines for the use of preoperative screening CXRs.

Source: Medline and Embase were searched under set terms for all English language articles published during 1966-2004. All eligible studies were reviewed and data were extracted individually by two authors. Of the 513 articles identified, 14 studies met both inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Principal findings: The quality of published evidence was modest as only six of the studies were rated as fair and eight as poor. Of the reported studies, diagnostic yield increased with age. However, most of the abnormalities consisted of chronic disorders such as cardiomegaly and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (up to 65%). The rate of subsequent investigations was highly variable (4-47%). When further investigations were performed, the proportion of patients who had a change in management was low (10% of investigated patients). Postoperative pulmonary complications were also similar between patients who had preoperative CXRs (12.8%) and patients who did not (16%).

Conclusion: An association between preoperative screening CXRs and decrease in morbidity or mortality could not be established. As the prevalence of CXR abnormalities is low in patients under the age of 70, there is fair evidence that routine CXRs should not be performed for patients in this age group without risk factors. For patients over 70, there is insufficient evidence for or against performance of routine CXRs. The current recommendation from the Guidelines Association Committee that routine CXRs should not be performed for patients over 70 without risk factors is supported by this study.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine*
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perioperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Preoperative Care*
  • Radiography, Thoracic* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • United States