Screening for COPD Is Not Recommended
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend screening for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for people who do not have symptoms suggestive of COPD. The report was published in the April 5th 2016 issue of JAMA.
A release from JAMA explains that this is a “D recommendation”, meaning that there is moderate or high certainty that screening has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.
About 14 percent of U.S. adults age 40 to 79 years have COPD, and it is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. People with severe COPD are often unable to participate in normal physical activity due to deterioration of lung function. To update its 2008 recommendation, the USPSTF reviewed the evidence on whether screening for COPD in asymptomatic adults (those who do not recognize or report respiratory symptoms) improves health outcomes. The USPSTF reviewed the diagnostic accuracy of screening tools (including prescreening questionnaires and spirometry [a test of the air capacity of the lungs]); whether screening for COPD improves the delivery and uptake of targeted preventive services, such as smoking cessation or relevant immunizations; and the possible harms of screening for and treatment of mild to moderate COPD.
The USPSTF is an independent, volunteer panel of experts that makes recommendations about the effectiveness of specific preventive care services such as screenings, counseling services, and preventive medications.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is defined as airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. It is a disease associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lung to harmful particles or gases. Diagnosis is based on postbronchodilator (a type of medication given to open up the lung’s air passages) spirometry, which detects fixed airway obstruction. Persons with COPD often, but not always, have symptoms such as dyspnea (difficulty breathing or shortness of breath), chronic cough, and chronic sputum production. Patients often have a history of exposure to risk factors such as cigarette smoke or heating fuels or occupational exposure to dusts or chemicals. Although postbronchodilator spirometry is required to make a definitive diagnosis, prescreening questionnaires can elicit current symptoms and previous exposures to harmful particles or gases.
Benefits of Detection and Early Treatment
The USPSTF found inadequate evidence that screening for COPD in asymptomatic persons using questionnaires or spirometry improves health outcomes.
Harms of Detection and Early Treatment
The USPSTF found inadequate evidence on the harms of screening. However, given the lack of benefit of early detection and treatment, the opportunity cost associated with screening asymptomatic persons may be large. The amount of time and effort required to screen for COPD in asymptomatic persons (using screening spirometry with or without prescreening questionnaires) is not trivial.