SYSTEMATIC REVIEW
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Transvaginal sonographic measurement of cervical length to predict preterm birth in asymptomatic women at increased risk: a systematic review.

OBJECTIVES: To estimate the ability of cervical length measured by transvaginal ultrasonography in asymptomatic high-risk women to predict spontaneous preterm birth.

METHODS: MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE and the Cochrane Library were searched for articles published in any language between January 1980 and July 2006, using the keywords 'transvaginal ultrasonography' or ('cervix' and ('ultrasound' or 'ultrasonography' or 'sonography')); and ('preterm' or 'premature') and ('delivery' or 'labour/labor' or 'birth'), identifying cohort studies evaluating transvaginal ultrasonographic cervical length measurement in predicting preterm birth in asymptomatic women who were considered at increased risk (because of a history of spontaneous preterm birth, uterine anomalies or excisional cervical procedures), with intact membranes and singleton gestations. The primary analysis included all studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Secondary analyses were also performed specifically for (1) women with a history of spontaneous preterm birth; (2) those who had undergone an excisional cervical procedure; and (3) those with uterine anomalies.

RESULTS: Fourteen of 322 articles identified (involving 2258 women) met the criteria for systematic review. Cervical length measured by transvaginal ultrasonography predicted spontaneous preterm birth. The shorter the cervical length cut-off the higher the positive likelihood ratio (LR). The most common cervical length cut-off was < 25 mm. Using this cut-off to predict spontaneous preterm birth at < 35 weeks, transvaginal ultrasonography at < 20 weeks' gestation revealed LR+ = 4.31 (95% CI, 3.08-6.01); at 20-24 weeks, LR+ = 2.78 (95% CI, 2.22-3.49); and at > 24 weeks, LR+ = 4.01 (95% CI, 2.53-6.34). In women with a history of spontaneous preterm birth (six studies involving 663 women) cervical length at < 20 weeks revealed LR+ = 11.30 (95% CI, 3.59-35.57) and at 20-24 weeks LR+ = 2.86 (95% CI, 2.12-3.87), but there were limited data on the use of cervical length of more than 24 weeks in this group (one study involving 42 women). In women who had had excisional cervical procedures, two studies presented data on cervical length (one at < 24 weeks and one at > 24 weeks), finding cervical length at < 24 weeks to be predictive of spontaneous preterm birth at < 35 weeks (LR+ = 2.91, 95% CI, 1.69-5.01). One study (of 64 women) evaluated cervical length in women with uterine anomalies, finding it predictive of spontaneous preterm birth at < 35 weeks (LR+ = 8.14, 95% CI, 3.12-21.25).

CONCLUSION: Cervical length measured by transvaginal ultrasonography in asymptomatic high-risk women predicts spontaneous preterm birth at < 35 weeks. Further research may be warranted to evaluate the use of transvaginal ultrasonography after 24 weeks' gestation in women with a history of spontaneous preterm birth, and in women with uterine anomalies.

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