These studies did not address whether certain groups at higher risk of developing prostate cancer, such as African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer, would benefit from PSA screening. In addition, both of the studies detailed in this PURL had substantive weaknesses.
Methodological limitations of the studies in the meta-analysis included the lack of intention-to-treat analysis and allocation concealment, which favors finding a benefit for the screening arm, and PSA screening in the nonscreening arm, which biases the results toward not finding a screening benefit that might exist. Despite these weaknesses, this meta-analysis brings together the best available evidence of the value of screening for prostate cancer.
In addition, there was no quantitative assessment of complication rates included in the meta-analysis. None of the 6 trials collected data on the effect of screening or treatment on participants’ quality of life.
In the post hoc study showing a benefit for screening healthy men, the decrease in prostate cancer deaths was small in magnitude, did not have an impact on all-cause mortality, and was of marginal statistical significance. Although the data came from the largest multicenter study to date of prostate cancer screening, the results of a post hoc analysis of a single trial should be interpreted with caution. The study was initially designed to test the effect of screening on a general population. Whenever a study deviates from the original hypothesis to evaluate a subset of the study population, the investigators increase the risk of finding a difference where none exists. Thus, it is possible that the findings of benefit for healthy men may not truly be present.
What’s more, the risk factors identified by the authors could be interpreted as arbitrary. They included diverticulosis, which is not known to increase the likelihood of cancer or heart disease, as a risk factor. By the same token, smoking—a known risk factor for both cancer and cardiovascular disease—was not addressed. Finally, potential harms associated with false-positive tests and prostate cancer treatment were not addressed in these studies.