Overdiagnosis in early detection programs

Ori Davidov, Marvin Zelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Overdiagnosis refers to the situation where a screening exam detects a disease that would have otherwise been undetected in a person's lifetime. The disease would have not have been diagnosed because the individual would have died of other causes prior to its clinical onset. Although the probability of overdiagnosis is an important quantity for understanding early detection programs it has not been rigorously studied. We analyze an idealized early detection program and derive the mathematical expression for the probability of overdiagnosis. The results are studied numerically for prostate cancer and applied to a variety of screening schedules. Our investigation indicates that the probability of overdiagnosis is remarkably high.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-613
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Early detection programs
  • Overdiagnosis
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


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