Background: Screening can detect prostate cancer at earlier, asymptomatic stages, when treatments might be more effective.
Purpose: To update the 2002 and 2008 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force evidence reviews on screening and treatments for prostate cancer.
Data sources: MEDLINE (2002 to July 2011) and the Cochrane Library Database (through second quarter of 2011).
Study selection: Randomized trials of prostate-specific antigen-based screening, randomized trials and cohort studies of prostatectomy or radiation therapy versus watchful waiting, and large observational studies of perioperative harms.
Data extraction: Investigators abstracted and checked study details and quality using predefined criteria.
Data synthesis: Of 5 screening trials, the 2 largest and highest-quality studies reported conflicting results. One found that screening was associated with reduced prostate cancer-specific mortality compared with no screening in a subgroup of men aged 55 to 69 years after 9 years (relative risk, 0.80 [95% CI, 0.65 to 0.98]; absolute risk reduction, 0.07 percentage point). The other found no statistically significant effect after 10 years (relative risk, 1.1 [CI, 0.80 to 1.5]). After 3 or 4 screening rounds, 12% to 13% of screened men had false-positive results. Serious infections or urine retention occurred after 0.5% to 1.0% of prostate biopsies. There were 3 randomized trials and 23 cohort studies of treatments. One good-quality trial found that prostatectomy for localized prostate cancer decreased risk for prostate cancer-specific mortality compared with watchful waiting through 13 years of follow-up (relative risk, 0.62 [CI, 0.44 to 0.87]; absolute risk reduction, 6.1%). Benefits seemed to be limited to men younger than 65 years. Treating approximately 3 men with prostatectomy or 7 men with radiation therapy instead of watchful waiting would each result in 1 additional case of erectile dysfunction. Treating approximately 5 men with prostatectomy would result in 1 additional case of urinary incontinence. Prostatectomy was associated with perioperative death (about 0.5%) and cardiovascular events (0.6% to 3%), and radiation therapy was associated with bowel dysfunction.
Limitations: Only English-language articles were included. Few studies evaluated newer therapies.
Conclusion: Prostate-specific antigen-based screening results in small or no reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality and is associated with harms related to subsequent evaluation and treatments, some of which may be unnecessary.
Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.