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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Medicine 1/2017

Trade-off between benefits, harms and economic efficiency of low-dose CT lung cancer screening: a microsimulation analysis of nodule management strategies in a population-based setting

BMC Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2017
Marina Treskova, Ines Aumann, Heiko Golpon, Jens Vogel-Claussen, Tobias Welte, Alexander Kuhlmann
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s12916-017-0924-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



In lung cancer screening, a nodule management protocol describes nodule assessment and thresholds for nodule size and growth rate to identify patients who require immediate diagnostic evaluation or additional imaging exams. The Netherlands-Leuvens Screening Trial and the National Lung Screening Trial used different selection criteria and nodule management protocols. Several modelling studies have reported variations in screening outcomes and cost-effectiveness across selection criteria and screening intervals; however, the effect of variations in the nodule management protocol remains uncertain. This study evaluated the effects of the eligibility criteria and nodule management protocols on the benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of lung screening scenarios in a population-based setting in Germany.


We developed a modular microsimulation model: a biological module simulated individual histories of lung cancer development from carcinogenesis onset to death; a screening module simulated patient selection, screening-detection, nodule management protocols, diagnostic evaluation and screening outcomes. Benefits included mortality reduction, life years gained and averted lung cancer deaths. Harms were costs, false positives and overdiagnosis. The comparator was no screening. The evaluated 76 screening scenarios included variations in selection criteria and thresholds for nodule size and growth rate.


Five years of annual screening resulted in a 9.7–12.8% lung cancer mortality reduction in the screened population. The efficient scenarios included volumetric assessment of nodule size, a threshold for a volume of 300 mm3 and a threshold for a volume doubling time of 400 days. Assessment of volume doubling time is essential for reducing overdiagnosis and false positives. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios of the efficient scenarios were 16,754–23,847 euro per life year gained and 155,287–285,630 euro per averted lung cancer death.


Lung cancer screening can be cost-effective in Germany. Along with the eligibility criteria, the nodule management protocol influences screening performance and cost-effectiveness. Definition of the thresholds for nodule size and nodule growth in the nodule management protocol should be considered in detail when defining optimal screening strategies.
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