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Medical screening 

Medical screening
Chapter:
Medical screening
Author(s):

Nicholas Wald

, and Malcolm Law

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780198746690.003.0018
Page of

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date: 25 February 2021

Medical screening is the systematic application of a test or inquiry to identify individuals at sufficient risk of a specific disorder to benefit from further investigation or direct preventive action (these individuals not having sought medical attention on account of symptoms of that disorder). Key to this definition is that the early detection of disease is not an end in itself; bringing forward a diagnosis without altering the prognosis is useless and may be harmful. Before a potential screening test is introduced into practice it must be shown to prevent death or serious disability from the disease to an extent sufficient to justify the human and financial costs. Where a detection rate cannot be directly determined (e.g. in cancer screening, or if the efficacy of the intervention is uncertain), a randomized trial is needed to show that screening and subsequent treatment reduce disease-specific mortality.

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