Estimating the rate of overdiagnosis with prostate cancer screening: evidence from the Finnish component of the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer Journal Articles uri icon

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  • PURPOSE: Screening for prostate cancer may have limited impact on decreasing prostate cancer-related mortality. A major disadvantage is overdiagnosis, whereby lesions are identified that would not have become evident during the man's lifetime if screening had not taken place. The present study aims to estimate the rate of overdiagnosis using Finnish data from the European randomized trial of prostate cancer screening. METHODS: We used data from 80,149 men randomized to a screening or a control group, distinguishing four birth cohorts. We used the "catch-up method" to identify when the difference in the cumulative incidence of prostate cancer between the screening and control groups had stabilized, implying that the screening has no further effect. We define the overdiagnosis rate to be the relative excess cumulative incidence in the screened group at that point. As an independent method, we also examined the diagnosis rates of T1c tumors as an indicator of early tumors detected by PSA. RESULTS: The estimates of overdiagnosis rates from the catch-up method using the full period of available follow-up ranged between cohorts from 2.3% to 15.4%, and the T1c analysis gave very similar results. CONCLUSION: Some overdiagnosis has occurred, but there is uncertainty about its extent. A long follow-up is required to demonstrate the full impact of screening. We evaluated the overdiagnosis rates at a population level, associated with being offered screening, taking account of contamination (screening among the controls). The overall evaluation of screening should incorporate mortality benefit, cost-effectiveness, and quality of life.


  • Walter, Stephen
  • Hu, Jiarui
  • Talala, Kirsi
  • Tammela, Teuvo
  • Taari, Kimmo
  • Auvinen, Anssi

publication date

  • November 2021