Background: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Because early-stage lung cancer is associated with lower mortality than late-stage disease, early detection and treatment may be beneficial.
Purpose: To update the 2004 review of screening for lung cancer for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, focusing on screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).
Data sources: MEDLINE (2000 to 31 May 2013), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (through the fourth quarter of 2012), Scopus, and reference lists.
Study selection: English-language randomized, controlled trials or cohort studies that evaluated LDCT screening for lung cancer.
Data extraction: One reviewer extracted study data about participants, design, analysis, follow-up, and results, and a second reviewer checked extractions. Two reviewers rated study quality using established criteria.
Data synthesis: Four trials reported results of LDCT screening among patients with smoking exposure. One large good-quality trial reported that screening was associated with significant reductions in lung cancer (20%) and all-cause (6.7%) mortality. Three small European trials showed no benefit of screening. Harms included radiation exposure, overdiagnosis, and a high rate of false-positive findings that typically were resolved with further imaging. Smoking cessation was not affected. Incidental findings were common.
Limitations: Three trials were underpowered and of insufficient duration to evaluate screening effectiveness. Overdiagnosis, an important harm of screening, is of uncertain magnitude. No studies reported results in women or minority populations.
Conclusion: Strong evidence shows that LDCT screening can reduce lung cancer and all-cause mortality. The harms associated with screening must be balanced with the benefits.
Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.