Serendipity in detecting disease in low prostate-specific antigen ranges

A. N. Vis, R. Kranse, M. Roobol, Th H. Van Der Kwast, F. H. Schröder

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Objective: To assess the magnitude of prostate cancer detection by serendipity (the coincidental detection of prostate cancer during the evaluation of an abnormal screening test result) when a digital rectal examination (DRE) and transrectal ultrasonography (TRUS) are used as initial screening tests for prostate cancer in men with low levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA; 0.0-3.9 ng/mL). Patients and methods: In all, 117 participants of a population-based screening study were diagnosed with prostate cancer after a standard evaluation of an abnormal screening test result; 49 underwent radical prostatectomy. Serendipity was defined as either: (i) the presence of prostate cancer opposite to the side that raised suspicion for cancer on DRE and/or TRUS; (ii) a negative lesion-directed biopsy while cancer was present in one or more of the cores of the sextant biopsy; (iii) a tumour volume of <0.5 mL on radical prostatectomy. Results: Depending on the definition, 2 7-63% of prostate cancers detected at low PSA values were detected coincidentally and not as a result of a true-positive test result. The proportion of cancers detected by serendipity was inversely correlated with serum PSA level. Conclusion: A relatively high proportion of prostate cancers diagnosed in men with low PSA levels, and in which a biopsy was prompted by a suspicious DRE and/or TRUS, are considered to be detected by chance only. As these cancers are mostly small (<0.5 mL), with potentially low biological aggressiveness, relying on serendipity seems disadvantageous in prostate-cancer screening. The level of serendipity in prostate cancer detection, the poor performance of the screening test, and high inter-observer variability, casts further doubt on the utility of DRE (and TRUS) as initial screening tests for prostate cancer in population-based screening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-389
Number of pages6
JournalBJU international
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Detection
  • PSA
  • Prostate cancer
  • Screening
  • Serendipity

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