Screening for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in asymptomatic adults has no net benefit, according to a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reassessment of its 2016 screening recommendations. The new recommendation is in line with the previous one and is made with moderate certainty (grade D evidence).
The USPSTF recommendation applies to adults who do not recognize or report respiratory symptoms. It does not apply to people with symptoms such as chronic cough, sputum production, difficulty breathing, or wheezing, or those known to be at very high risk for COPD. These latter include people with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency or workers exposed to certain toxins at their jobs, according to the report published in JAMA.
“Considering that the outcomes of several other chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, have been improved over the years with early detection and intervention, it is logical to ask whether screening to achieve early detection of COPD might also lead to better outcomes,” Surya P. Bhatt, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and George T. O’Connor, MD, of the Boston University, explained in an editorial.
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Task Force Assessment
The task force examined relevant publications after the 2016 deliberations and found no new studies that directly assessed the effects of screening for COPD in asymptomatic adults on morbidity, mortality, or health-related quality of life.
Although, as in their previous review, serious harms from treatment trials were not consistently reported, more recent large observational studies in screen-relevant populations suggested possible harms from the initiation of long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs), long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMAs), and the use of inhaled corticosteroids.
“In addition to potential treatment harms, there are opportunity costs to screening that may include time spent on counseling and providing services and patient referrals for diagnostic testing,” the task force stated.
Because cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, the USPSTF has reiterated its recommendations for physicians to address tobacco smoking cessation in adults, including pregnant persons, as well as tobacco use in children and adolescents.
Not the Whole Story?
“Truly asymptomatic individuals with airflow obstruction do not meet criteria for COPD therapy, but sensitive questionnaires may detect symptoms not previously reported by the patient. It may be more effective to redirect the focus from screening for asymptomatic COPD to case finding using sensitive and cost-effective tools,” Bhatt and O’Connor suggested in their editorial.
“Even though available data may not support screening asymptomatic adults for COPD, there is substantial rationale for further investigation of strategies to enhance earlier detection of this condition,” they concluded.
More Research Needed
Despite the recommendation, the USPSTF indicated that further studies are needed to fill in research gaps, including:
The effectiveness of screening asymptomatic adults for COPD to reduce morbidity or mortality or improve health-related quality of life, with long-term follow-up.
The effectiveness of early treatment for asymptomatic, minimally symptomatic, or screen-detected populations to slow disease progression and improve health outcomes, with long-term follow-up.
The harms of screening in and treatment of persons with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic COPD.
The USPSTF is an independent, voluntary body, and potential conflicts of interest of the members are on file with the organization. Bhatt reported serving on an advisory board for Boehringer Ingelheim and receiving consulting fees from Sanofi/Regeneron; and O’Connor reported receiving consulting fees from Grupo Menarini and Dicerna Pharmaceuticals.
This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.