Overdiagnosis and Lives Saved by Reflex Testing Men with Intermediate Prostate-Specific Antigen Levels

Roman Gulati, Todd M. Morgan, Teresa A'Mar, Sarah P. Psutka, Jeffrey J. Tosoian, Ruth Etzioni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Several prostate cancer (PCa) early-detection biomarkers are available for reflex testing in men with intermediate prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Studies of these biomarkers typically provide information about diagnostic performance but not about overdiagnosis and lives saved, the primary drivers of associated harm and benefit. Methods: We projected overdiagnoses and lives saved using an established microsimulation model of PCa incidence and mortality with screening and treatment efficacy based on randomized trials. We used this framework to evaluate four urinary reflex biomarkers (measured in 1112 men presenting for prostate biopsy at 10 US academic or community clinics) and two hypothetical ideal biomarkers (with 100% sensitivity or specificity for any or for high-grade PCa) at one-time screening tests at ages 55 and 65 years. Results: Compared with biopsying all men with elevated PSA, reflex testing reduced overdiagnoses (range across ages and biomarkers = 8.8-60.6%) but also reduced lives saved (by 7.3-64.9%), producing similar overdiagnoses per life saved. The ideal biomarker for high-grade disease improved this ratio (by 35.2% at age 55 years and 42.0% at age 65 years). Results were similar under continued screening for men not diagnosed at age 55 years, but the ideal biomarker for high-grade disease produced smaller incremental improvement. Conclusions: Modeling is a useful tool for projecting the implications of using reflex biomarkers for long-term PCa outcomes. Under simplified conditions, reflex testing with urinary biomarkers is expected to reduce overdiagnoses but also produce commensurate reductions in lives saved. Reflex testing that accurately identifies high-grade PCa could improve the net benefit of screening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdjz127
Pages (from-to)384-390
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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