Diagnostic tests for oral cancer and potentially malignant disorders in patients presenting with clinically evident lesions

Richard Macey (Lead / Corresponding author), Tanya Walsh, Paul Brocklehurst, Alexander R. Kerr, Joseph L. Y. Liu, Mark W. Lingen, Graham R. Ogden, Saman Warnakulasuriya, Crispian Scully

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Oral squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of malignancy of the lip and oral cavity, often being proceeded by potentially malignant disorders (PMD). Early detection can reduce the malignant transformation of PMD and can improve the survival rate for oral cancer. The current standard of scalpel biopsy with histology is painful for patients and involves a delay whilst histology is completed; other tests are available that are unobtrusive and provide immediate results.

Objectives: Primary objective: To estimate the diagnostic accuracy of index tests for the detection of oral cancer and PMD of the lip and oral cavity, in people presenting with clinically evident lesions. Secondary objective: To estimate the relative accuracy of the different index tests.

Search methods: The electronic databases were searched on 30 April 2013. We searched MEDLINE (OVID) (1946 to April 2013) and four other electronic databases (the Cochrane Diagnostic Test Accuracy Studies Register, the Cochrane Oral Health Group's Trials Register, EMBASE (OVID) and MEDION (Ovid)). There were no restrictions on language in the searches of the electronic databases. We conducted citation searches and screened reference lists of included studies for additional references.

Selection criteria: We selected studies that reported the diagnostic test accuracy of the following index tests when used as an adjunct to conventional oral examination in detecting PMD or oral squamous cell carcinoma of the lip or oral cavity: vital staining, oral cytology, light-based detection and oral spectroscopy, blood or saliva analysis (which test for the presence of biomarkers in blood or saliva).

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened titles and abstracts for relevance. Eligibility, data extraction and quality assessment were carried out by at least two authors, independently and in duplicate. Studies were assessed for methodological quality using QUADAS-2. Meta-analysis was used to combine the results of studies for each index test using the bivariate approach to estimate the expected values of sensitivity and specificity.

Main results: We included 41 studies, recruiting 4002 participants, in this review. These studies evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of conventional oral examination with: vital staining (14 studies), oral cytology (13 studies), light-based detection or oral spectroscopy (13 studies). Six studies assessed two combined index tests. There were no eligible diagnostic accuracy studies evaluating blood or salivary sample analysis. The summary estimates for vital staining obtained fromthemeta-analysis were sensitivity of 0.84 (95%CI 0.74 to 0.90) with specificity of 0.70 (0.59 to 0.79), with 14 studies were included in themeta-analysis. For cytology, sensitivity was 0.91 (0.81 to 0.96) and specificity was 0.91 (0.81 to 0.95) with 12 studies included in the meta-analysis. For light-based detection, sensitivity was 0.91 (0.77 to 0.97) and specificity was 0.58 (0.22 to 0.87) with 11 studies included in the meta-analysis. The relative test accuracy was assessed by adding covariates to the bivariate analysis, no difference in model fit was observed.

Authors' conclusions: The overall quality of the included studies was poor.None of the adjunctive tests can be recommended as a replacement for the currently used standard of a scalpel biopsy and histological assessment. Given the relatively high values of the summary estimates of sensitivity and specificity for cytology, this would appear to offer themost potential. Combined adjunctive tests involving cytology warrant further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD010276
Number of pages28
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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