The role of pre-invasive disease in overdiagnosis: A microsimulation study comparing mass screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer

Paula Luijt, Kirsten Rozemeijer, Steffie Naber, Eveline Heijnsdijk, Joost van Rosmalen, Marjolein Ballegooijen, Harry de Koning

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Objective Although early detection of cancer through screening can prevent cancer deaths, a drawback of screening is overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis has been much debated in breast cancer screening, but less so in cervical cancer screening. We examined the impact of overdiagnosis by comparing two screening programmes in the Netherlands. Methods We estimated overdiagnosis rates by microsimulation for breast cancer screening and cervical cancer screening, using a cohort of women born in 1982 with lifelong follow-up. Overdiagnosis estimates were made analogous to two definitions formed by the UK 2012 breast screening review. Pre-invasive disease was included in both definitions. Results Screening prevented 921 cervical cancers (-55%) and 378 cervical cancer deaths (-59%), and 169 (-1.3%) breast cancer cases and 970 breast cancer deaths (-21%). The cervical cancer overdiagnosis rate was 74.8% (including pre-invasive disease). Breast cancer overdiagnosis was estimated at 2.5% (including pre-invasive disease). For women of all ages in breast cancer screening, an excess of 207 diagnoses/100,000 women was found, compared with an excess of 3999 diagnoses/100,000 women in cervical cancer screening. Conclusions For breast cancer, the frequency of overdiagnosis in screening is relatively low, but consequences are evident. For cervical cancer, the frequency of overdiagnosis in screening is high, because of detection of pre-invasive disease, but the consequences per case are relatively small due to less invasive treatment. This illustrates that it is necessary to present overdiagnosis in relation to disease stage and consequences.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)210-216
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Screening
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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