Evaluation of screening for a cancer: annotated catechism of the Gold Standard creed

J Eval Clin Pract. 2003 May;9(2):145-50. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2753.2003.00412.x.


Even non-scientific people are generally aware of, and commonly also personally affected by, the confusion and debates that arose from two recent systematic reviews and their associated meta-analyses of the published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that had been designed to assess the usefulness of screening for breast cancer. With nothing about the principles of research on cancer screening learned from this debacle, an RCT on screening for lung cancer has just been launched in the same 'gold standard' framework; and so in about 10 years, and upon expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, we are said to be able to learn whether the screening saves lives and whether it thereby is justifiable as a matter of public policy. We here examine the core tenets and precepts in this 'gold standard' line of thinking, and we argue that they are matters of belief at variance with the dictates of reason.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Biomedical Research
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Logic
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards*
  • Research Design