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Benefits, risks and limitations of screening
Making an informed choice
Before having any screening test, it’s worth finding out more about the test itself and what would happen next if you found out you have a higher risk of a particular condition.
Deciding whether or not to have a screening test is a personal choice and one which only you can make. When you are invited for screening, you will receive an information leaflet about the screening test. You can discuss any aspect of the screening test with your health professional and decide whether or not it’s right for you.
Different types of screening have different benefits and risks. Some of these are listed below.
The benefits of having a screening test include:
The risks and limitations of screening include:
What is screening?
Screening is a way of identifying apparently healthy people who may have an increased risk of a particular condition. The IHC offers a range of screening tests to different sections of the population.
The aim is to offer screening to the people who are most likely to benefit from it. For example, some screening tests are only offered to newborn babies, others such as breast screening and abdominal aortic aneurysm screening are only offered to older people.
If you get a normal result (a screen negative result) after a screening test, this means you are at low risk of having the condition you were screened for. This does not mean that you will never develop the condition in the future, just that you are low risk at the moment.
If you have a higher risk result (a screen positive result), it means you may have the condition that you’ve been tested for. At this point, you will be offered further tests (called diagnostic tests) to confirm if you have the condition. You can then be offered treatment, advice and support.
Finding out about a problem early can mean that treatment is more effective. However, screening tests are not perfect and they can lead to difficult decisions about having further tests or treatment.
"Screening is a way of finding out if people are at higher risk of a health problem so that early treatment can be offered or information given to help them make informed decisions."