Background: A systematic literature search for the Cancer Specialist Library (CSL) in 2004 identified 16,909 potential references for systematic reviews relating to cancer and its management. The quality of systematic reviews is variable so a priority of the CSL is to identify and include only good quality systematic reviews from these search results.
Aim: To establish a process for identifying high quality systematic reviews relating to cancer and its management from the results of a systematic literature search.
Methods: In order to avoid duplication of others' work, sources of appraisals of systematic reviews were searched. The appraisals found were matched against the references from the CSL's initial literature searches. The CSL also piloted a 'tumour group' in head and neck cancer to investigate the feasibility of involving clinicians in the appraisal of other systematic reviews found in the CSL's literature searches.
Results: The systematic search retrieved 16,909 initial references. A very small proportion of these had published appraisals (n=256;1.5% of total). The experience of the head and neck 'tumour group suggests that despite their enthusiasm and support, busy clinicians simply do not have the time to appraise papers systematically on this scale. The CSL is investigating how using clinical guidelines and collaborating with their development teams (e.g. the UK's National Collaborating Centre for Cancer (NCC-C)) could help identify other appraisals of systematic reviews.
Conclusions: Identifying cancer systematic reviews is an achievable task: finding the 'gold' is not so easy. The CSL has identified those that have been pre-appraised, and expects that collaborative efforts will result in other higher quality systematic reviews being identified. Without systematic appraisal, the CSL must decide whether to populate the Library with those which have not received an in-depth quality check. Not only will this potentially obscure where the true gaps in the evidence base lie, but it will compromise the original aim of the CSL to provide access to reliable evidence.