Percutaneous coronary intervention versus coronary artery bypass grafting: where are we after NOBLE and EXCEL?

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Purpose of review

The publication of the NOBLE and EXCEL trials, with seemingly conflicting results, brought into question whether percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is better for low-risk patients with left main coronary artery stenosis (LMCAS). This review appraises the methods and results of NOBLE and EXCEL, contextualizes them within the literature, and determines how they may affect clinical practice.

Recent findings

We appraised the trials and describe differences in methodology and results. NOBLE recruited primarily isolated LMCAS, and found that CABG was superior to PCI. EXCEL's population included patients LMCAS in the context of multivessel CAD, and found PCI and CABG were comparable. Both trials enrolled young patients with few comorbidities, and there was more protocol-mandated consistency in the procedural techniques and medical therapy of patients receiving PCI.


The generalizability of these trials is limited by the use of young, healthy patients at highly skilled centres that rarely reflect typical clinical practice. If these studies are to maintain relevance, trialists must address the lack of protocolization of surgical interventions and inconsistent medical therapies. Unfortunately, the limitations of NOBLE and EXCEL mean that we are no closer to answering the question of what is the optimal treatment for patients with LMCAS.

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