Description of the Evidence
At the end of the 1980s, the relationship between screening with chest imaging (using traditional chest x-ray) and lung cancer mortality was not well understood. Although previous studies showed no benefit, they were not definitive, partly due to lack of statistical power. A multiphasic trial with ample statistical power, the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial, began in 1992. PLCO enrolled 154,901 participants aged 55 to 74 years, including women (50%) and never smokers (45%). Half were randomly assigned to screening, and the other half were advised to receive their usual medical care. PLCO had 90% power to detect a 20% reduction in lung cancer mortality.
The lung component of PLCO addressed the question of whether annual single-view (posterior-anterior) chest x-ray was capable of reducing lung cancer mortality as compared with usual medical care. When the study began, all participants randomly assigned to screening were invited to receive a baseline and three annual chest x-ray screens, although the protocol ultimately was changed to screen never-smokers only three times. At 13 years of follow-up, 1,213 lung cancer deaths were observed in the intervention group, compared with 1,230 lung cancer deaths in the usual-care group (mortality relative risk, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.87–1.22). Sub-analyses suggested no differential effect by sex or smoking status.
Given the abundance and consistency of evidence, as well as the lack of benefit observed in the PLCO trial, it is appropriate to conclude that lung cancer screening with chest x-ray and/or sputum cytology, regardless of sex or smoking status, does not reduce lung cancer mortality.
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