The Natural History of Radiographically Occult Bronchogenic Squamous Cell Carcinoma*: A Retrospective Study of Overdiagnosis Bias

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An overdiagnosis bias occurs with the diagnosis of a disease that does not produce signs or symptoms before the patient dies from other causes. We sought to determine whether overdiagnosis bias is a factor when screening for squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.


Retrospective study of the Miyagi Population-Based Lung Cancer Screening Registry for high-risk patients who were seen between January 1, 1982 (when sputum cytology tests were added for men with long smoking histories), and December 31, 1996.


Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.


A total of 251 patients (all men) who had sputum cytology test results that were positive for squamous cell carcinoma but had normal radiograph findings, 44 of whom declined cancer treatment (mean age, 70 years) and 207 of whom were treated with resection within 12 weeks of diagnosis (mean age, 65.5 year).

End Points:

Five-year and 10-year survival rates from primary lung cancer in both groups as of August 15, 2001.


Among the 44 untreated patients, 15 (34%) remained asymptomatic. The survival rate due to primary lung cancer death in the untreated group was 53.2% at 5 years and 33.5% at 10 years. The survival rate among treated patients was 96.7% at 5 years and 94.9% at 10 years. Of the 125 treated patients who died, 14 (11.2%) died from primary lung cancer.


Given that the two thirds of the untreated patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the bronchus died from lung cancer within 10 years, overdiagnosis bias does not appear to be a factor in screening for this disease. Thus, we recommend that patients with radiographically occult squamous cell carcinoma of the bronchus undergo tumor treatment after localization.

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