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Prostate Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Evidence of Harms


The effectiveness of AS was retrospectively investigated in the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) trial. Data from 577 men diagnosed with prostate cancer as a consequence of periodic screening between 1994 and 2007 at a mean age of 66.3 years in four participating clinical centers in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland were evaluated. Selection criteria for inclusion in the analysis were:

  • PSA less than or equal to 10 ng/mL.
  • PSA density less than 0.2 ng/mL.
  • Stage T1C/T2.
  • Gleason score less than or equal to 3 + 3 = 6.
  • No more than two positive biopsy cores.

Men with positive lymph nodes or distant metastases at the time of diagnosis were excluded from the analysis. These are the same thresholds being applied in the (as yet unreported) prospective Prostate Cancer Research International: Active Surveillance study on AS originating from ERSPC and in the (also unreported) protocol-based prospective study of AS in Canada.

The mean follow-up time for the 577 men in the retrospective assessment was 4.35 years (0–11.63 years). The calculated 10-year prostate cancer-specific survival rate was 100%. The overall 10-year survival rate was 77%. The calculated 10-year deferred treatment-free survival rate was 43%.

After 7.75 years, 50% of men had received treatment. The median treatment-free survival was 2.5 years. Men treated during follow-up were slightly younger at diagnosis than men remaining untreated (64.7 years vs. 67.0 years; P < .001). Of the 110 men shifting to active treatment despite favorable PSA levels and PSA doubling times, DRE was known in 53 of the men and played a role in nine of them, whereas rebiopsies were known in 27 of the men and played a role in none of them. On the basis of PSA characteristics, 1.9% of patients who remained untreated may have been better candidates for active treatment, while 55.8% of men who received active treatment were not obvious candidates for radical treatment and neither DRE nor rebiopsy explained the discrepancy. Factors like anxiety and urologic complaints may have been more explanatory, but the data were not available.

The authors conclude that their data confirm prior studies' findings, that many screen-detected prostate cancers may be actively followed (e.g., AS), and curative treatment delayed, thereby delaying or avoiding the morbid consequences of radical therapy without diminishing survival. The authors also note that a considerable fraction of men do not comply with the AS regimen apparently for psychological reasons, and AS often results in delay, not avoidance, of radical therapy.


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  6. Sharpe JR, Sadlowski RW, Finney RP, et al.: Urinary tract infection after transrectal needle biopsy of the prostate. J Urol 127 (2): 255-6, 1982.
  7. Stanford JL, Feng Z, Hamilton AS, et al.: Urinary and sexual function after radical prostatectomy for clinically localized prostate cancer: the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study. JAMA 283 (3): 354-60, 2000.
  8. Screening for Prostate Cancer. Rockville, Md: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2011. Available online. Last accessed January 31, 2013.

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Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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