Cumulative incidence of false-positive results in repeated, multimodal cancer screening

Academic Article


  • PURPOSE: Multiple cancer screening tests have been advocated for the general population; however, clinicians and patients are not always well-informed of screening burdens. We sought to determine the cumulative risk of a false-positive screening result and the resulting risk of a diagnostic procedure for an individual participating in a multimodal cancer screening program. METHODS: Data were analyzed from the intervention arm of the ongoing Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial, a randomized controlled trial to determine the effects of prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening on disease-specific mortality. The 68,436 participants, aged 55 to 74 years, were randomized to screening or usual care. Women received serial serum tests to detect cancer antigen 125 (CA-125), transvaginal sonograms, posteroanterior-view chest radiographs, and flexible sigmoidoscopies. Men received serial chest radiographs, flexible sigmoidoscopies, digital rectal examinations, and serum prostate-specific antigen tests. Fourteen screening examinations for each sex were possible during the 3-year screening period. RESULTS: After 14 tests, the cumulative risk of having at least 1 false-positive screening test is 60.4% (95% CI, 59.8%-61.0%) for men, and 48.8% (95% CI, 48.1%-49.4%) for women. The cumulative risk after 14 tests of undergoing an invasive diagnostic procedure prompted by a false-positive test is 28.5% (CI, 27.8%-29.3%) for men and 22.1% (95% CI, 21.4%-22.7%) for women. CONCLUSIONS: For an individual in a multimodal cancer screening trial, the risk of a false-positive finding is about 50% or greater by the 14th test. Physicians should educate patients about the likelihood of false positives and resulting diagnostic interventions when counseling about cancer screening.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Croswell JM; Kramer BS; Kreimer AR; Prorok PC; Xu JL; Baker SG; Fagerstrom R; Riley TL; Clapp JD; Berg CD
  • Start Page

  • 212
  • End Page

  • 222
  • Volume

  • 7
  • Issue

  • 3