Lung cancer is the leading cause of death among all cancer types in the UK, killing approximately 34 000 people per year. By the time symptoms develop, the tumour is often at an advanced stage and the prognosis is bleak. Treatment at a less advanced stage of disease by surgical resection has been shown to substantially reduce mortality. Screening would be attractive if it could detect presymptomatic lung cancer at a stage when surgical intervention is feasible but has been the subject of scientific debate for the past three decades. The aim of this review was to examine the current evidence on the clinical effectiveness of screening for lung cancer using computed tomography. A systematic literature review searching 15 electronic databases and Internet resources from 1994 until December 2004/January 2005 was carried out. Information was summarised narratively. A total of 12 studies of computed tomography screening for lung cancer were identified including two RCTs and 10 studies of screening without comparator groups. The two RCTs were of short duration (1 year). None examined the effect of screening on mortality compared with no screening. The proportion of people with abnormal computed tomography findings varied widely between studies (5–51%). The prevalence of lung cancer detected was between 0.4% and 3.2% (number needed to screen to detect one lung cancer = 31 to 249). Incidence rates of lung cancer were lower (0.1–1%). Among the detected tumours, a high proportion were stage I or resectable tumours, 100% in some studies. Currently, there is insufficient evidence that computed tomography screening is clinically effective in reducing mortality from lung cancer.