A Review of the Presentation of Overdiagnosis in Cancer Screening Patient Decision Aids

Ashley J. Housten, Lisa M. Lowenstein, Aubri Hoffman, Lianne E. Jacobs, Zineb Zirari, Diana S. Hoover, Dawn Stacey, Greg Pratt, Therese B. Bevers, Robert J. Volk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction. Patient decision aid (PDA) certification standards recommend including the positive and negative features of each option of the decision. This review describes the inclusion of concepts related to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, negative features often ambiguously defined, in cancer screening PDAs. Methods. Our process followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. We reviewed 1) current systematic reviews of decision aids, 2) the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute Decision Aid Library Inventory, and 3) a web-based, gray literature search. Two independent reviewers identified and evaluated PDAs using content analysis. Reviewers coded whether overdiagnosis/overtreatment was described as 1) detecting cancer that would not lead to death, 2) detecting cancer that would not cause symptoms, and/or 3) a potential harm or consequence of screening. Coding discrepancies were resolved through consensus. Results. A total of 904 records (e.g., articles, PDAs) were reviewed and 85 PDAs were identified: prostate (n = 36), breast (n = 26), lung (n = 10), colorectal (n = 10), and other (n = 3). Sixty-seven PDAs included concepts related to overdiagnosis/overtreatment; 57 (67.1%) used a term other than overdiagnosis/overtreatment, 23 (27.1%) used the specific term “overdiagnosis,” and 13 (15.3%) used “overtreatment.” PDAs described overdiagnosis/overtreatment as a potential harm or consequence of screening (n = 62) and/or a detection of a cancer that would not cause symptoms (n = 49). Thirty-six described overdiagnosis as the detection of a cancer that would not result in death. Twenty PDAs described the probabilities associated with overdiagnosis/overtreatment. Conclusions. Over three quarters of cancer screening PDAs addressed concepts related to overdiagnosis/overtreatment, yet terminology was inconsistent and few included probability estimates. Consistent terminology and minimum standards to describe overdiagnosis/overtreatment would help guide the design and certification of cancer screening PDAs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMDM Policy and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • cancer
  • decision aids
  • health communication
  • screening
  • systematic review


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