Catheter ABlation vs ANtiarrhythmic Drug Therapy in Atrial Fibrillation - CABANA

Contribution To Literature:

The CABANA trial showed that ablation is not superior to drug therapy for CV outcomes at 5 years among patients with new-onset or untreated AF that required therapy. 


The goal of the trial was to compare the safety and efficacy of catheter ablation compared with drug therapy for the treatment of patients with new-onset or untreated atrial fibrillation (AF).

Study Design

Patients were randomized in a 1:1 fashion to either catheter ablation (n = 1,108) or drug therapy (n = 1,096). Primary ablation was performed with standard techniques (pulmonary vein isolation [PVI]/wide area circumferential ablation [WACA], ancillary ablations as needed). Drug therapy could be either for rate or rhythm control. All patients received anticoagulation.

  • Total number of enrollees: 2,204
  • Duration of follow-up: 5 years
  • Mean patient age: 67.5 years
  • Percentage female: 37%

Inclusion criteria:

  • Paroxysmal, persistent, or longstanding persistent AF patients who warrant therapy
  • ≥65 years of age
  • <65 years of age with ≥1 cerebrovascular accident (CVA)/cardiovascular (CV) risk factor
  • Eligible for ablation
  • On ≥2 rhythm or rate control drugs 

Other salient features/characteristics:

  • Cardiomyopathy: 9%
  • Chronic heart failure: 15%
  • Prior CVA/transient ischemic attack (TIA): 10%
  • Type of AF: paroxysmal: 43%, persistent 47%
  • Prior hospitalization for AF: 39%
  • Crossover: ablation to drug:  9.2%, drug to ablation: 27.5%

Principal Findings:

The primary outcome, death, disabling stroke, serious bleeding, or cardiac arrest at 5 years for ablation vs. drug therapy, was 8% vs. 9.2% (hazard ratio [HR] 0.86, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.65-1.15, p = 0.3).

  • Death: 5.2% vs. 6.1% for ablation vs. drug therapy (p = 0.38)
  • Serious stroke: 0.3% vs. 0.6% for ablation vs. drug therapy (p = 0.19)
  • Primary endpoint based on treatment received (for ablation vs. drug therapy): 7.0% vs. 10.9% (p = 0.006); all-cause mortality: 4.4% vs. 7.5%, p = 0.005; death or CV hospitalization: 41.2% vs. 74.9% (p = 0.002)

Secondary outcomes:

  • Death or CV hospitalization: 51.7% vs. 58.1% for ablation vs. drug therapy (HR 0.83, 95% CI 0.74-0.93, p = 0.002)
  • Pericardial effusion with ablation: 3.0%; ablation-related events: 1.8%

AF recurrence for ablation vs. drug therapy at 4 years: Assessed after 90-day blanking period (n = 2,043):

  • First recurrent AF: 52.1% vs. 70.8% (HR 0.52, 95% CI 0.45-0.60, p < 0.0001); similar reduction in symptomatic AF
  • First recurrent AF/atrial flutter/atrial tachycardia: 53.8% vs. 71.9% (p < 0.0001)
  • AF burden (% of Holter monitoring time): 6.3% vs. 14.4% at 12 months; 14.7% vs. 20.8% at 5 years


The results of this important trial indicate that ablation is not superior to drug therapy for CV outcomes at 5 years among patients with new-onset or untreated AF that required therapy. There was a significant reduction in death or CV hospitalization with ablation, and on as-treated analysis, ablation demonstrated superior efficacy to drug therapy. In addition, recurrent AF and AF burden were lower with ablation compared with drug therapy alone. In the setting of a negative primary endpoint, these latter findings are considered hypothesis generating. Catheter ablation was associated with a significant reduction in recurrent AF compared with drug therapy.

A couple of caveats exist. The drug-therapy arm is very heterogeneous, and it is unclear if uniform pursuance of rhythm control in that arm would be better than the rate control arm. The included population is also somewhat unclear with respect to the patients who would most benefit with this therapy.

Finally, this trial is only single-blinded (not to intervention received). That may have driven the high crossover rates and can confound assessment of the various endpoints. Based on recent experiences from important sham-controlled trials (e.g., SYMPLICITY), these findings should prompt consideration of a sham-controlled trial to assess the true efficacy of catheter ablation in modulating CV outcomes among patients with AF.


Poole JE, Bahnson TD, Monahan KH, et al., on behalf of the CABANA Investigators and ECG Rhythm Core Lab. Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation After Catheter Ablation or Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy in the CABANA Trial. J Am Coll Cardiol 2020;75:3105-18.

Editorial Comment: Marchlinski FE, Walsh K, Guandalini GS. Reporting AF Recurrence After Catheter Ablation: The Burden Is on Us to Get it Right. J Am Coll Cardiol 2020;75:3119-21.

Presented by Dr. Jeanne E. Poole at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, Munich, Germany, August 26, 2018.

Presented by Dr. Douglas L. Packer at the Heart Rhythm Society Scientific Session, May 10, 2018, Boston, MA.

Clinical Topics: Anticoagulation Management, Arrhythmias and Clinical EP, Pericardial Disease, Anticoagulation Management and Atrial Fibrillation, Implantable Devices, SCD/Ventricular Arrhythmias, Atrial Fibrillation/Supraventricular Arrhythmias

Keywords: ESC Congress, ESC18, Anticoagulants, Arrhythmias, Cardiac, Atrial Fibrillation, Catheter Ablation, Drug Therapy, Heart Arrest, Hemorrhage, Pericardial Effusion, Pulmonary Veins, Stroke

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