Overdiagnosis of lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography screening: meta-analysis of the randomised clinical trials

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In low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening for lung cancer, all three main conditions for overdiagnosis in cancer screening are present: 1) a reservoir of slowly or nongrowing lung cancer exists; 2) LDCT is a high-resolution imaging technology with the potential to identify this reservoir; and 3) eligible screening participants have a high risk of dying from causes other than lung cancer. The degree of overdiagnosis in cancer screening is most validly estimated in high-quality randomised controlled trials (RCTs), with enough follow-up time after the end of screening to avoid lead-time bias and without contamination of the control group.

Nine RCTs investigating LDCT screening were identified. Two RCTs were excluded because lung cancer incidence after the end of screening was not published. Two other RCTs using active comparators were also excluded. Therefore, five RCTs were included: two trials were at low risk of bias, two of some concern and one at high risk of bias. In a meta-analysis of the two low risk of bias RCTs including 8156 healthy current or former smokers, 49% of the screen-detected cancers were overdiagnosed. There is uncertainty about this substantial degree of overdiagnosis due to unexplained heterogeneity and low precision of the summed estimate across the two trials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number200013
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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