How do lung cancer screening program websites portray benefits and harms, and what next steps do they recommend for individuals considering screening?
In this cross-sectional study of 162 lung cancer screening program websites, potential benefits of screening were presented significantly more often than potential harms (98% vs 48%). In addition, only 22% of the websites guided individuals to a shared decision-making visit with a health care professional.
There appears to be an imbalance in the presentation of benefits and harms on lung cancer screening program websites and a lack of guideline-driven recommended next steps for shared decision-making.
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that individuals at high risk for lung cancer consider benefits and harms before pursuing lung cancer screening. Medical centers develop websites for their lung cancer screening programs, but to date little is known about the websites’ portrayal of benefits and harms or what next steps they recommend for individuals considering screening.
To assess the presentation of potential benefits and harms and recommended next steps on lung cancer screening program websites.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Cross-sectional content analysis of 162 lung cancer screening program websites of academic medical centers (n = 81) and state-matched community medical centers (n = 81) that were randomly selected from American College of Radiology lung cancer screening–designated centers was conducted. The study was performed from December 1, 2018, to January 31, 2019.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Website presentation of screening-associated benefits and harms was the primary outcome. Benefit was defined as any description related to the potential reduction in lung cancer mortality. Harms were based on the US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations and included false positives, false negatives, overdiagnosis, radiation exposure, and incidental findings. The secondary outcome was next steps that are recommended by websites.
Overall, the 162 lung cancer screening program websites described the potential benefits more frequently than they described any potential harms (159 [98%] vs 78 [48%], P < .01). False-positive findings were the most frequently reported (72 [44%]) potential harm. Community centers were less likely than academic centers to report any potential harm (32 [40%] vs 46 [57%], P = .03), potential harm from radiation (20 [25%] vs 35 [43%], P = .01), and overdiagnosis (0% vs 11 [14%], P < .01). One hundred nineteen websites (73%) did not explicitly recommend that individuals personally consider the potential benefits and harms of screening; community centers were less likely than academic centers to give this recommendation (15 [19%] vs 28 [35%], P = .02). Most institutions (157 [97%]) listed follow-up steps for screening, but few institutions (35 [22%]) recommended that individuals discuss benefits and harms with a health care professional.
Conclusions and Relevance
Information on public-facing websites of US lung cancer screening programs appears to lack balance with respect to portrayal of potential benefits and harms of screening. Important harms, such as overdiagnosis, were commonly ignored in the sites evaluated, and most of the centers did not explicitly guide individuals toward a guideline-recommended, shared decision-making discussion of harms and benefits.
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Clark SD, Reuland DS, Enyioha C, Jonas DE. Assessment of Lung Cancer Screening Program Websites. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(6):824–830. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.0111
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