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A prospective cohort evaluation of the sensitivity and specificity of the chest X-ray for the detection of lung cancer in symptomatic adults

Published:September 18, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejrad.2021.109953

      Highlights

      • The diagnostic accuracy of the CXR in detecting symptomatic lung cancer.
      • A positive CXR strongly increases the probability of lung cancer being present.
      • A negative CXR leads to a limited reduction of the probability of lung cancer.
      • The findings allow the risk of lung cancer following a negative test to be estimated.

      Abstract

      Background

      The accuracy of the chest x-ray (CXR) in the identification of lung cancer amongst symptomatic individuals is uncertain.

      Purpose

      To determine the diagnostic accuracy of the CXR for the detection of non-small cell carcinomas (NSCLC) and all primary intrathoracic malignancies.

      Methods

      A prospective cohort study of consecutive CXR reports obtained within a primary care open access initiative. Eligibility criteria were symptoms specified by National Institute for Clinical Excellence as indicative of possible lung cancer and age over 50-yrs.
      A positive test was a CXR which led directly or indirectly to investigation with CT. The reference standards were malignancies observed within a one- or two-year post-test period.

      Results

      8,948 CXR outcomes were evaluated. 496 positive studies led to a diagnosis of 101 patients with primary intrathoracic malignancy including 80 with NSCLC. Within two-years, a cumulative total of 168 patients with primary intrathoracic malignancies including 133 NSCLC were observed.
      The sensitivity and specificity for NSCLC were 76% (95 %CI 68–84) and 95% (95 %CI 95–96) within 1-year and 60% (95 %CI 52–69) and 95% (95 %CI 95–96) within 2-years. The 2-yr positive and negative likelihood ratios were 12.8 and 0.4. The results did not differ for NSCLC compared to all primary malignancies. Within this symptomatic population a negative test reduced the 2-year risk of lung cancer to 0.8%.

      Conclusions

      A positive test strongly increases the probability of malignancy whereas a negative test does not conclusively exclude the disease. The findings allow the risk of malignancy following a negative test to be estimated.

      Keywords

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