BACKGROUND: Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world and, as such, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed operations globally. Surgical techniques have changed dramatically over the past half century with associated improvements in outcomes and safety. Femtosecond lasers can be used to perform the key steps in cataract surgery, such as corneal incisions, lens capsulotomy and fragmentation. The potential advantage of femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery (FLACS) is greater precision and reproducibility of these steps compared to manual techniques. The disadvantages are the costs associated with FLACS technology.
OBJECTIVES: To compare the effectiveness and safety of FLACS with standard ultrasound phacoemulsification cataract surgery (PCS) by gathering evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Trials Register; 2022, Issue 5); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid Embase; LILACS; the ISRCTN registry; ClinicalTrials.gov; the WHO ICTRP and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. We did not use any date or language restrictions in the electronic searches for trials. We last searched the electronic databases on 10 May 2022.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We included RCTs where FLACS was compared to PCS.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three review authors independently screened the search results, assessed risk of bias and extracted data using the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. The primary outcome for this review was intraoperative complications in the operated eye, namely anterior capsule, and posterior capsule tears. The secondary outcomes included corrected distance visual acuity (CDVA), quality of vision (as measured by any validated patient-reported outcome measure (PROM)), postoperative cystoid macular oedema complications, endothelial cell loss and cost-effectiveness. We assessed the certainty of the evidence using GRADE.
MAIN RESULTS: We included 42 RCTs conducted in Europe, North America, South America and Asia, which enrolled a total of 7298 eyes of 5831 adult participants. Overall, the studies were at unclear or high risk of bias. In 16 studies the authors reported financial links with the manufacturer of the laser platform evaluated in their studies. Thirteen of the studies were within-person (paired-eye) studies with one eye allocated to one procedure and the other eye allocated to the other procedure. These studies were reported ignoring the paired nature of the data. There was low-certainty evidence of little or no difference in the odds of developing anterior capsular tears when comparing FLACS and PCS (Peto odds ratio (OR) 0.83, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.40 to 1.72; 5835 eyes, 27 studies) There was one fewer anterior capsule tear per 1000 operations in the FLACS group compared with the PCS group (95% CI 4 fewer to 3 more). There was low-certainty evidence of lower odds of developing posterior capsular tears with FLACS compared to PCS (Peto OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.25 to 1.00; 5767 eyes, 26 studies). There were four fewer posterior capsule tears per 1000 operations in the FLACS group compared with the PCS group (95% CI 6 fewer to same). There was moderate-certainty evidence of a very small advantage for the FLACS arm with regard to CDVA at six months or more follow-up, (mean difference (MD) -0.01 logMAR, 95% CI -0.02 to 0.00; 1323 eyes, 7 studies). This difference is equivalent to 1 logMAR letter between groups and is not thought to be clinically important. From the three studies (1205 participants) reporting a variety of PROMs (Cat-PROMS, EQ-5D, EQ-SD-3L, Catquest9-SF and patient survey) up to three months following surgery, there was moderate-certainty evidence of little or no difference in the various parameters between the two treatment arms. There was low-certainty evidence of little or no difference in the odds of developing cystoid macular oedema when comparing FLACS and PCS (Peto OR 0.84, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.28; 4441 eyes, 18 studies). There were three fewer cystoid macular oedema cases per 1000 operations in the FLACS group compared with the PCS group (95% CI 10 fewer to 6 more). In one study the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) (cost difference divided by quality-adjusted life year (QALY) difference) was GBP £167,620 when comparing FLACS to PCS. In another study, the ICER was EUR €10,703 saved per additional patient who had treatment success with PCS compared to FLACS. Duration ranged from three minutes in favour of FLACS to eight minutes in favour of PCS (I2 = 100%, 11 studies) (low-certainty evidence). There was low-certainty evidence of little or no important difference in endothelial cell loss when comparing FLACS with PCS (MD 12 cells per mm2 in favour of FLACS, 95% CI -40 to 64; 1512 eyes, 10 studies). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: This review of 42 studies provides evidence that there is probably little or no difference between FLACS and PCS in terms of intraoperative and postoperative complications, postoperative visual acuity and quality of life. Evidence from two studies suggests that FLACS may be the less cost-effective option. Many of the included studies only investigated very specific outcome measures such as effective phacoemulsification time, endothelial cell count change or aqueous flare, rather than those directly related to patient outcomes. Standardised reporting of complications and visual and refractive outcomes for cataract surgery would facilitate future synthesis, and guidance on this has been recently published.
The systematic review of current literature confirms that the 2 procedures are comparable for complication rates, endothelial cell loss, and visual outcomes.