Background: Neuroblastoma is the second most common type of childhood tumor. It is not known whether screening for neuroblastoma at one year of age reduces the incidence of metastatic disease or mortality due to neuroblastoma.
Methods: We offered urine screening for neuroblastoma at approximately one year of age to 2,581,188 children in 6 of 16 German states from 1995 to 2000. A total of 2,117,600 eligible children in the remaining states served as controls. We compared the two groups in terms of the incidence of disseminated disease and mortality from neuroblastoma.
Results: A total of 1,475,773 children (61.2 percent of those who were born between July 1, 1994, and October 31, 1999) underwent screening. In this group, neuroblastoma was detected by screening in 149 children, of whom 3 have died. Fifty-five children who had negative screening tests were subsequently given a diagnosis of neuroblastoma; 14 of these children have died. The screened group and children in the control area had a similar incidence of stage 4 neuroblastoma (3.7 cases per 100,000 screened children [95 percent confidence interval, 2.7 to 4.7] and 3.8 per 100,000 controls [95 percent confidence interval, 2.9 to 4.6]) and a similar rate of death among children with neuroblastoma (1.3 deaths per 100,000 screened children [95 percent confidence interval, 0.7 to 1.8] and 1.2 per 100,000 controls [95 percent confidence interval, 0.7 to 1.7]). Comparison of the screened group and the children in the control area revealed substantial overdiagnosis in the former group (an estimated rate of 7 cases per 100,000 children [95 percent confidence interval, 4.6 to 9.2]); the overdiagnosis rate represents children who had neuroblastoma that was diagnosed by screening but who would not benefit from earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Conclusions: The present findings do not support the usefulness of general screening for neuroblastoma at one year of age.