Do we know enough about the effect of low-dose computed tomography screening for lung cancer on survival to act? A systematic review, meta-analysis and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.


Background: Diagnosis of lung cancer frequently occurs in its later stages. Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) could detect lung cancer early. Methods: Our objective was to estimate the effect of LDCT lung cancer screening on mortality in high-risk populations. A systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing LDCT screening programmes with usual care (no screening) or other imaging screening programme (such as chest X-ray (CXR)) was conducted. RCTs of CXR screening were additionally included in the network meta-analysis. Bibliographic sources including MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science and the Cochrane Library were searched to January 2017. All key review steps were done by two persons. Quality assessment used the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool. Meta-analyses were performed. Results: Four RCTs were included. More will provide data in the future. Meta-analysis demonstrated that LDCT screening with up to 9.80 years of follow-up was associated with a statistically non-significant decrease in lung cancer mortality (pooled relative risk (RR) 0.94, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.74 to 1.19; p = 0.62). There was a statistically non-significant increase in all-cause mortality. Given the considerable heterogeneity for both outcomes, the results should be treated with caution.Network meta-analysis including the four original RCTs plus two further RCTs assessed the relative effectiveness of LDCT, CXR and usual care. The results showed that in terms of lung cancer mortality reduction LDCT was ranked as the best screening strategy, CXR screening as the worst strategy and usual care intermediate. Conclusions: LDCT screening may be effective in reducing lung cancer mortality but there is considerable uncertainty: the largest of the RCTs compared LDCT with CXR screening rather than no screening; there is imprecision of the estimates; and there is important heterogeneity between the included study results. The uncertainty about the effect on all-cause mortality is even greater. Maturing trials may resolve the uncertainty.

Diagn Progn Res