What is screening?
Screening is an NHS service offered to you if you are at risk of certain conditions. Screening tests are not compulsory but are offered to help you make an informed choice about your health or the health of your child. You can then be offered information, further tests and appropriate treatment to reduce the risk and complications arising from the disease or condition.
Why is screening important?
Screening can find serious conditions early, before you get any symptoms. The earlier the condition is found, the better your chance of dealing with it. If a condition is found early, it is less likely to become severe and you are less likely to need major treatment.
Regular screening can reduce the number of deaths from particular conditions.
What are the downsides of screening?
Screening is different from other aspects of health care, because the health service is offering apparently healthy people help to make better informed choices about their health. There are risks involved in some types of screening and it is important that people have realistic expectations of what screening can offer them.
Whilst screening can improve quality of life, or even save lives through early diagnosis of serious conditions, it is not a fool-proof process.
Screening can reduce the risk of developing a condition or complications but it cannot offer a guarantee of total protection from a particular illness. In any screening programme, there can be false positive results (wrongly reported as having the condition) and false negative results (wrongly reported as not having the condition).
The UK National Screening Committee is an expert committee that carefully considers the risks to patients resulting from false positive and false negative tests, before recommending that the NHS develops a particular screening programme.
Does screening protect against all diseases?
A screening test only looks for one particular condition, for example Bowel Screening is only looking for Bowel Cancer. Sometimes other conditions are found during screening but this is quite rare.