On prostate cancer mortality

| Comments (3) | Biology
Ezra Klein points out that while the US death rate from prostate cancer is more or less the same as in other developed nations, the survival rate is a lot higher because the US screening program is so effective.

Figure from: Cancer Research UK

A natural question to ask at this point is: what's the point of a massive screening program if it doesn't improve the death rate? There's more to the issue here than the cost of the screening, since you need to followup with other tests, eventually culminating in a biopsy, and then treatment isn't fun. And of course it's probably kind of stressful to find out you have prostate cancer, even if it's not eventually going to kill you.


One interesting side effect of this is that if you look at the 5-year survival rate (from diagnosis), the US looks massively better. The cancer is found at a much earlier stage and therefore has a lower chance of killing you within 5 years.

Of course, the outcome that you should actually care about--how likely it will kill you at a given age--is identical. So you have to pay careful attention whenever people use prostate cancer surival as a basis for comparing health care between countries (or surviving any other cancer where screening effort varies wildly).

This is one specific example of how it might make sense to follow Robin Hanson's advice and simply cut US health care expenditures in half:


Eric, nothing improves the death rate. It's
always 100%.

Not if you believe Kurzweil.

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