Screening is a way of trying to find out if people are at risk of certain health conditions. Medical tests are significant since they help the individual to make informed decisions and seek early treatment. In some cases, you may have a disease, but you do not have any symptoms.
The main idea is to find a disease while it is still in its early stages or before it develops. It is possible to treat certain conditions before they start causing severe health problems. It is also possible to prevent some diseases well before they even occur.
However, not all diseases have suitable screening tests that can help early detection. In some instances, not all of the conditions picked up during screening can be treated. There are specific diseases that constitute UK’s national screening programmes.
Why A Medical Screening Test?
Screening involves a check that is performed by a health care professional to detect a disease before it develops. It also helps to pick up a condition during its early stage, and if the result is positive, further testing is required. A positive outcome after the second test determines the need for treatment.
There are specific cancers like bowel and breast cancer that a test can diagnose while still in the early stages. After the detection of these conditions, initial treatment can stop them from spreading. There is also a pre-cancer stage that affects the neck of the womb in women. During this stage of the disease, there is a treatment that can help stop the spread of cancer cells to other organs. As they say, prevention is the best method, and the next step is to catch is very early.
Early detection via cervical screening programme helps to prevent the development of cancer of the cervix in the affected person. Each condition has a different test, and other screening tests involve a blood test while other cases include a physical examination. Other situations require a scan while others need a particular type of X-ray.
Screening Test Results
When your result is negative, it means that you have a low risk of the disease. When you go for screening, you want to know your level of risk of a specific disease. Therefore, a negative result does not guarantee you that you will not develop the condition in the future. Screening helps you to know that you are safe at that particular moment.
A positive screen result means that you have a higher risk of the condition you tested for and further tests are required. These are called diagnostics tests, and they aim to confirm if you have the disease. Once established, you get treatment advice as well as other necessary support that can help you cope with the condition.
If you detect the condition early, there are high chances that treatment will be useful. On a different note, you should also remember that screening is not always perfect. It can lead you to tough decisions that can even worsen your current condition.
Conditions Suitable For Screening Tests
Precise conditions should apply before consideration of the national screening programme. It is essential to make sure that the test is accurate and avoid a situation where many people can test positive. The test should also not fail to pick the condition among many people who have it.
There must also be a test that can pick a condition before symptoms develop. In some cases, it might be too late for the test to select the illness after the development of the symptoms. A test that is effective should be able to detect the disease while still in its formative stage instead of wait for signs.
The benefits of conducting the test should be higher than the potential risk of performing the same. If the analysis does not yield positive results, it might not be necessary to conduct it. On the other hand, if the test poses some risks to the people, then there might be no justification for performing it.
Virtually, a screen test should assure the people that it will improve their health not the other way round. The other important aspect is that the test must be reasonably easy to perform so that the targeted people will not shun it. If the process of conducting the analysis is complicated, it might not be acceptable to different individuals.
The other aspect to consider is that the cost of the test should not be more significant than the benefits it brings. It should be reasonable so that many people can afford it and they can voluntarily go for testing. If a person tests positive, there should be a clear course of action to follow.
The other important element is that once the condition tests positive, then there must be a treatment while it is still in the early stages. There is no reason for screening for something if the physicians cannot do anything about the condition. People would prefer not to have the test in the first place.
Types Of Screening Offered By NHS UK
There is an independent expert group called UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) that advises the NHS UK’s four countries. The group advises on the types of screening programmes to offer in all the nations.
A. Screening For Pregnant Women
There are different types of screening for women during pregnancy which include the following:
1. Infectious Diseases
When you are pregnant, you will get blood tests for three infectious diseases namely HIV, Hepatitis B, and Syphilis. All pregnant women are recommended to take the test in all the pregnancies. All the conditions can pass from the mother to the child.
2. Screening For Down’s Patau’s and Edward’s Syndromes
In England, all pregnant women get screening tests for the above conditions between 10 and 14 weeks of their pregnancy.
3. Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassaemia Screening
The two conditions are inherited blood disorders that pass from the mother to baby. All pregnant women in England get a test for these conditions. The test is essential before you are ten weeks pregnant.
4. Physical Abnormalities Screening
The screening involves an ultrasound scan that needs to be carried out between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy. Everyone can go for the scan, but it is not mandatory, you can leave it if you don’t want. The scan usually checks for significant abnormalities on the baby.
B. Screening Tests For New Babies
New babies get screening for the following conditions.
1. Physical Examination
All mothers get a physical examination for the babies within 72 hours of birth. The screening tests aim to check if the baby has problems with heart, eyes, testicles in boys and hips in girls. The examination is done before you go home.
2. Hearing Test
The test is conducted to check if the new baby does not have hearing problems. In case of a problem, the mother is advised to seek early help for the sake of the baby. Hearing loss can impact on the baby’s development.
3. Blood Spot Screening
Every baby in England gets blood spot screening when they reach five days old. The test involves a blood sample to test for any of the rare but severe condition that affects the baby’s health. Early treatment will help to prevent critical disability in the child.
C. Diabetic Eye Screening
All people who are twelve years and above should get annual diabetic eye testing. The test aims to check for early signs of diabetic retinopathy.
D. Cervical Screening
All women between the ages of 26 and 64 get tests to check if the cells of the cervix are healthy. The test is not for cancer but to check if there are no abnormal signs of cervical cells in the women tested.
Source: Cancer Research UK
E. Bowel Cancer Screening
Bowel cancer screening is for people who are over 60 years. It involves a kit to use at home to check for small amounts of blood in the poo. However, it does not diagnose bowel cancer. Bowel scope screening, on the other hand, is for people with 55 years and it is to remove small growths called polyps.
Source: Cancer Research UK
F. Breast Screening
Breast screening is for women between the ages of 50 and 70 years. When breast cancer is detected early, you can also get early treatment which is very useful. You may not need chemotherapy or breast removal in the long run.
G. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening
AAA is a condition that is common among smokers, the elderly, people with high blood pressure. With the disease, the major artery in the body widens as it moves through the abdomen. As a result, the walls of the artery will weaken.
Significance Of Screening Tests
Many people believe that “prevention is better than cure” and there are many benefits of screening tests. Screening helps the healthcare professionals to pick up problems early which helps to save lives as well as to prevent health problems. Certain health conditions are preventable hence testing helps the doctors to identify these diseases.
In the UK for example, about 4,500 lives are saved annually by cervical screening. Cervical cancer is common among woman, and its early detection can save lives through appropriate treatment. Successful treatment for different types of cancers is also possible if they are detected while still in early ages.
When cancer is still in its early stages, the operations involved are not extensive than in the later stages. When cancer reaches advanced stages, various treatment methods like chemotherapy are often used, but these are complicated. However, it is easier to treat certain diseases before they develop to complicated stages. Screening plays a pivotal role in the detection of various cancers which also helps in handling them.
There are also different types of screening programmes for newborn babies. The screening tests help to pick up specific abnormalities among the infants. Early detection can lead to correction of the deformities. The screening tests are conducted when the child is born, and they are repeated at six weeks.
Screening examination of newborn babies aims to look for problems related to hips, testicles, eyes as well as the heart. It helps to prevent specific health issues that may develop later on in life as the kids grow. These issues include but are not limited to the following: infertility, loss of vision as well as hip arthritis. Screening tests also involve pregnant women to check for any abnormalities. If severe complications are detected, the woman can choose to discontinue pregnancy.
Downside Of Screening
While screening has many benefits, it also has its limitations that you should know so that you can make an informed decision. One thing that you should always remember is that screening is not 100 % accurate. In some instances, the health professionals can tell you that you have a problem while you do not have any.
Such kind of scenario is called “false positive”, and it can compel you to seek further test or treatment for a non-existent disease. Meanwhile, you will be forced to waste your money over nothing. Another scenario is called “false negative” where the screening test misses the problem. People can end up ignoring symptoms in the future which can pose a threat to their health. You will get this self-comfort that you are safe while it might not be true.
In some instances, knowing that you have symptoms that can lead to chronic health condition can cause anxiety. You may not be able to live peacefully then after the screening. Some people are better off without knowing that they have a specific condition that can pose a threat to their lives.
Screening tests in some situations can lead to tough decisions. For example, a pregnancy test can tell you that the baby is at higher risk of a particular condition. The result can compel you to seek further tests, and if the effect is positive, you are in a fix. You are forced to make a difficult decision of whether to terminate the pregnancy or continue with it.
The other issue is that a negative result from a screening test does not guarantee that you are forever safe from the condition. If a cancer screen test shows that you are not at risk, it does not mean that you may not develop the disease.