Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine ran a lead article reporting that patients with lung cancer had a 10-year survival approaching 90% if detected by screening spiral computed tomography. The publication garnered considerable media attention, and some felt that its findings provided a persuasive case for the immediate initiation of lung cancer screening. We strongly disagree. In this article, we highlight 4 reasons why the publication does not make a persuasive case for screening: the study had no control group, it lacked an unbiased outcome measure, it did not consider what is already known about this topic from previous studies, and it did not address the harms of screening. We conclude with 2 fundamental principles that physicians should remember when thinking about screening: (1) survival is always prolonged by early detection, even when deaths are not delayed nor any lives saved, and (2) randomized trials are the only way to reliably determine whether screening does more good than harm.
Register and get free email Table of Contents alerts, saved searches, PowerPoint downloads, CME quizzes, and more
Subscribe for full-text access to content from 1998 forward and a host of useful features
Activate your current subscription (AMA members and current subscribers)
Purchase Online Access to this article for 24 hours
Lung Cancer Alliance sports celebrity advertisement.
Lead-time bias. The diagram shows how earlier diagnosis will increase the survival statistic, even if death is not delayed.
Overdiagnosis bias. The diagram shows how the detection of pseudodisease inflates the survival statistic even when the number of deaths is stable.
Cycle of scans required in initial case series of spiral computed tomographic (CT) screening.42,43 The asterisk indicates that 9 patients were recommended to have only 1 year of follow-up.
Thank you for submitting a comment on this article. It will be reviewed by JAMA Internal Medicine editors. You will be notified when your comment has been published. Comments should not exceed 500 words of text and 10 references.
Do not submit personal medical questions or information that could identify a specific patient, questions about a particular case, or general inquiries to an author. Only content that has not been published, posted, or submitted elsewhere should be submitted. By submitting this Comment, you and any coauthors transfer copyright to the journal if your Comment is posted.
* = Required Field
Disclosure of Any Conflicts of Interest*
Indicate all relevant conflicts of interest of each author below, including all relevant financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including, but not limited to, employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speakers’ bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued. If all authors have none, check "No potential conflicts or relevant financial interests" in the box below. Please also indicate any funding received in support of this work. The information will be posted with your response.
Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.
Download citation file:
Web of Science® Times Cited: 36
Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.
More Listings atJAMACareerCenter.com >
and access these and other features:
Enter your username and email address. We'll send you a link to reset your password.
Enter your username and email address. We'll send instructions on how to reset your password to the email address we have on record.
Athens and Shibboleth are access management services that provide single sign-on to protected resources. They replace the multiple user names and passwords necessary to access subscription-based content with a single user name and password that can be entered once per session. It operates independently of a user's location or IP address. If your institution uses Athens or Shibboleth authentication, please contact your site administrator to receive your user name and password.