Prostate Screening Every 4 Years Works

Study Backs Prostate Cancer Screening at 4-Year Intervals

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 30, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 30, 2003 -- Screening men for prostate cancer every four years is enough to catch the vast majority of cancers, a new European study shows.

Researchers found very few aggressive prostate cancers slipped through the cracks, and a four-year interval between prostate cancer screening tests was adequate to detect most cancers.

When to Screen for Prostate Cancer

The study, published in the Oct. 1 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, looked at the number of cancers detected between screening visits among the 17,226 men ages 55 to 74 enrolled in the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC).

Researchers say that the occurrence of interval cancers is used to determine whether the screening tests are sensitive enough and screening interval is appropriate.

About half of the men were randomly assigned to a screening group that received a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, a digital rectal exam, and a rectal ultrasound exam every four years. The other men received no prostate cancer screening.


A total of 412 prostate cancers were diagnosed in men after the first round of screening, and during the following four years 18 additional cancers were detected.

In contrast, 135 cancers were detected during the same follow-up period among those who did not receive prostate cancer screening.

Screening Works

Researcher Ingrid W. van der Crujisen-Koeter, MD, of Erasmus MC, University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues say the low number of prostate cancers detected between screenings shows that the screening procedures were about 86% sensitive and the schedule was appropriate.

In addition, the cancers that were detected during the interval among the screening group were at earlier stages and had not spread, which suggests that "very few, if any aggressive prostate cancers escape screening with the procedure used within the ERSPC."

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SOURCES: van der Cruijsen-Koeter, I. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Oct. 1, 2003; vol 95: pp 1462-1467. News release, Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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