Monday, July 14, 2003

Health screening: a waste of time?

The Independent health editor, Jeremy Laurance, reports on renewed discussion of the value of health screening. Hazel Thornton and Michael Baum, writing in the British Medical Journal, argue that screening tends to create more worry, anxiety and unnecessary treatment than can be justified by the number of lives saved. Meanwhile, private clinics offering whole body scans and other forms of screening, are doing an ever-increasing business.

Any rational analysis of screening would lead to it being scrapped. However, women's health has been an important area of activity for feminists and it would be politically difficult to be seen to ignore breast and cervical cancer, no matter how useless the testing. Moreover, the general trend of government health policy has been to intervene more frequently in people's lives - and screening is part-and-parcel of that trend.

A friend of mine illustrated this for me by telling me her experience of trying to get the Pill from her GP. Her GP insisted on a cervical smear. My friend had no great objection to the test, slightly unpleasant and embarrassing though it may be, but objected strongly to being dictated to. So, she went to her family planning clinic for it instead. So much for empowering women...

Health warning: screening can seriously damage patients, Independent, 14 July 2003


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