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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010 May 5;102(9):605-13. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djq099. Epub 2010 Apr 22.

Overdiagnosis in cancer.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, VT 05009, USA. h.gilbert.welch@dartmouth.edu

Abstract

This article summarizes the phenomenon of cancer overdiagnosis-the diagnosis of a "cancer" that would otherwise not go on to cause symptoms or death. We describe the two prerequisites for cancer overdiagnosis to occur: the existence of a silent disease reservoir and activities leading to its detection (particularly cancer screening). We estimated the magnitude of overdiagnosis from randomized trials: about 25% of mammographically detected breast cancers, 50% of chest x-ray and/or sputum-detected lung cancers, and 60% of prostate-specific antigen-detected prostate cancers. We also review data from observational studies and population-based cancer statistics suggesting overdiagnosis in computed tomography-detected lung cancer, neuroblastoma, thyroid cancer, melanoma, and kidney cancer. To address the problem, patients must be adequately informed of the nature and the magnitude of the trade-off involved with early cancer detection. Equally important, researchers need to work to develop better estimates of the magnitude of overdiagnosis and develop clinical strategies to help minimize it.

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PMID:
20413742
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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