Cochrane Summaries

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Screening for prostate cancer

Ilic D, Neuberger MM, Djulbegovic M, Dahm P
Published Online: 
31 January 2013

Prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in men worldwide. Screening for prostate cancer implies that diagnostic tests be performed in the absence of any symptoms or indications of disease. These tests include the digital rectal examination (DRE), the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) guided biopsy. Screening aims to identify cancers at an early and treatable stage, therefore increasing the chances of successful treatment while also improving a patient's future quality of life. This review identified five relevant studies, comprised of 341,342 participants in total. Two of the studies were assessed to be of low risk of bias, whilst the remaining three had more substantive methodological weaknesses. Meta-analysis of all five included studies demonstrated no statistically significant reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality (risk ratio (RR) 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.86 to 1.17). Meta-analysis of the two low risk of bias studies indicated no significant reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.30). Only one study included in this review (ERSPC) reported a significant 21% relative reduction (95% CI 31% to 8%) in prostate cancer-specific mortality in a pre-specified subgroup of men. These results were primarily driven by two countries within the ERSPC study that had very high prostate cancer mortality rates and unusually large reduction estimates. Among men aged 55 to 69 years in the ERSPC study, the study authors reported that 1055 men would need to be screened to prevent one additional death from prostate cancer during a median follow-up duration of 11 years. Harms included overdiagnosis and harms associated with overtreatment, including false-positive results for the PSA test, infection, bleeding, and pain associated with subsequent biopsy.