Screening Tests

Screening Tests

This very tragic death is a reminder that there are risks to all tests. It is important to understand the risks, no matter how small, so you can make an informed decision about having a test.

There are 2 types of tests – screening tests and tests ordered to investigate symptoms or monitor diseases. We will focus on screening tests today.

Screening tests are done on a population of people without symptoms when there is evidence that the benefit of the test outweighs the risk. If the test is funded by taxpayers money, the test also needs to be ‘cost effective’ meaning that the money spent is worth it in lives saved.

Tests such as the cervical screening test (previously called the PAP smear) for cervical cancer is an example of a screening test. It has been studied for many years and there is strong evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks and it is cost effective i.e. money well spent.

People often wonder what the risks of tests are. Common risks include: unnecessary radiation exposure, pain and discomfort, wasted money, false positive results (when the test is positive but there is nothing wrong) – this can cause a lot of anxiety and necessitate more tests (with more cost and radiation exposure) and allergic reactions, which on rare occasions can be fatal.

So before you have any test please consider the risks and benefits. Your GP will discuss these with you. You can also look at the Choosing Wisely site:

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