Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment of Prostate Cancer
Loeb S1, Bjurlin MA2, Nicholson J3, Tammela TL4, Penson DF5, Carter HB6, Carroll P7, Etzioni R8. Eur Urol. 2014 Jan 9. pii: S0302-2838(13)01490-5. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2013.12.062. [Epub ahead of print]

Author information

1Department of Urology, New York University, New York, NY, USA. Electronic address: stacyloeb@gmail.com. 2Department of Urology, New York University, New York, NY, USA. 3Health Sciences Library, New York University, New York, NY, USA. 4Department of Urology, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland. 5Department of Urology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA. 6Brady Urological Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA. 7Department of Urology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA. 8Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA.


CONTEXT: Although prostate cancer (PCa) screening reduces the incidence of advanced disease and mortality, trade-offs include overdiagnosis and resultant overtreatment.

OBJECTIVE: To review primary data on PCa overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

EVIDENCE ACQUISITION: Electronic searches were conducted in Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PubMed, and Embase from inception to July 2013 for original articles on PCa overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Supplemental articles were identified through hand searches.

EVIDENCE SYNTHESIS: The lead-time and excess-incidence approaches are the main ways used to estimate overdiagnosis in epidemiological studies, with estimates varying widely. The estimated number of PCa cases needed to be diagnosed to save a life has ranged from 48 down to 5 with increasing follow-up. In clinical studies, generally lower rates of overdiagnosis have been reported based on the frequency of low-grade minimal tumors at radical prostatectomy (1.7-46.8%). Autopsy studies have reported PCa in 18.5-38.5%, although not all are low grade or low volume. Factors influencing overdiagnosis include the study population, screening protocol, and background incidence, limiting generalizability between settings. Reported rates of overtreatment vary widely in the literature, although contemporary international studies suggest increasing use of conservative management.

CONCLUSIONS: Epidemiological, clinical, and autopsy studies have been used to examine PCa overdiagnosis, with estimates ranging widely from 1.7% to 67%. Correspondingly, estimates of overtreatment vary widely based on patient features and may be declining internationally. Careful patient selection for screening and reducing overtreatment are important to preserve the benefits and reduce the downstream harms of prostate-specific antigen testing. Because all of these estimates are extremely population and context specific, this must be considered when using these data to inform policy.

PATIENT SUMMARY: Screening reduces spread and death from prostate cancer (PCa) but overdiagnoses some low-risk tumors that may not have caused harm. Because treatment has potential side effects, it is critical that not all patients with PCa receive aggressive treatment.