Clinical trials in cancer screening, prevention and early diagnosis (SPED): A systematic mapping review

Samuel Merriel, Emma O'Dowd, Vinton WT Cheng, Sam Khan, Lynne Howells, Dipesh Gopal, Elizabeth Roundhill, Paul Brennan, Philip Crosbie, Richard D. Neal, Karen Brown, Emma Crosbie, David Baldwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Global annual cancer incidence is forecast to rise to 27.5 M by 2040, a 62% increase from 2018. For most cancers, prevention and early detection are the most effective ways of reducing mortality. This study maps trials in cancer screening, prevention, and early diagnosis (SPED) to identify areas of unmet need and highlight research priorities. Methods: A systematic mapping review was conducted to evaluate all clinical trials focused on cancer SPED, irrespective of tumour type. The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) portfolio, EMBASE, PubMed and Medline were searched for relevant papers published between 01/01/2007 and 01/04/2020. References were exported into Covidence software and double-screened. Data were extracted and mapped according to tumour site, geographical location, and intervention type. Results: One hundred seventeen thousand seven hundred one abstracts were screened, 5157 full texts reviewed, and 2888 studies included. 1184 (52%) trials focussed on screening, 554 (24%) prevention, 442 (20%) early diagnosis, and 85 (4%) a combination. Colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer comprised 61% of all studies compared with 6.4% in lung and 1.8% in liver cancer. The latter two are responsible for 26.3% of global cancer deaths compared with 19.3% for the former three. Number of studies varied markedly according to geographical location; 88% were based in North America, Europe, or Asia. Conclusions: This study shows clear disparities in the volume of research conducted across different tumour types and according to geographical location. These findings will help drive future research effort so that resources can be directed towards major challenges in cancer SPED.

Original languageEnglish
Article number820
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2023


  • Cancer
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Prevention
  • Screening
  • Systematic mapping
  • Trials


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