Screening Tests: Necessity and Avoidance

Screening Tests [Diagnostics and Pathology]

The human body is a complete system in itself. Each organ, individually and collectively, works day in and day out to keep it functioning smoothly. But as it is with any other system, our body is also prone to snags and break-downs that are commonly called as diseases.
The term disease is often defined as a “disorder of structure or function, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.” So any kind of deviation or disorder from the normal working, is termed as illness, sickness or disease. And once the root cause is identified, adequate treatment is given to restore the health or the normal working condition of the body. The role of accurate diagnostics is of prime importance here, because an error or shortcomings in diagnosis can lead to unwanted effects.
Reading the Early Signs
With the fierce development in medical science and technology, it is now possible to conduct tests that can warn people about the onset of a certain disease. Screening tests, as they are known, are done to detect potential health disorders in people who currently show no symptoms of the disease. The objective here is early detection, to reduce the risk of disease through lifestyle changes and/or surveillance. In severe cases, early detection helps to treat the disease more effectively.
Screening tests, though not 100% accurate are valued for their ability to detect potential problems, and minimize unclear, ambiguous, or confusing results. They are generally recommended for people at high risk for disease, or very rare diseases. Some of them being:
Cholesterol Monitoring – A waxy substance found naturally in our body and also in the food that we eat. It is required by the body in a moderate amount and when the levels increase, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases too. A timely detection helps by making lifestyle changes, though it doesn’t completely rule out the risks.
Cancer Detection – Tests like pap test(smear), prostate-specific antigens, mammography, etc are done to rule out the chances of developing cervical, prostate and breast cancer respectively. Cancer, as we know, can be controlled when detected early.
How much is too much?
Screening tests and search engines have put information in the hands of the common man. The result is a revolution that borders on discombobulation. People are going in for screening tests, not because their medical practitioner said so, but because the nearest diagnostic center was offering a huge discount. And yes, their neighbor or a close family-friend thinks it is important to do so. Often people rush into treatment at the smallest pretense without bothering to understand the effects of it. This has given rise to the phenomenon of over-diagnosis and over-treatment.
The diagnostic industry is handling out DIY kits to detect diseases. While this might be useful, they argue, it also brings with it unnecessary worry. As soon as people see their values slightly different from what is considered normal, they jump to the conclusion that they are sick and need immediate treatment. The fact that the treatment might take a toll on their financial, mental and physical condition is lost in their conviction of being ill.
Drawing the Line
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Screening tests or early diagnosis are a way to incorporate the habit of prevention into our lives. But like everything else, this too needs to be practiced with caution. These tests are developed to ensure that the population remains healthy. Understanding the fine divide between when to and when not to go for treatment is important. What can be done using grandma’s remedy need not go through an all-out medical procedure. Being informed is good, but this information should come in with a warning or suggestion on when to act and when not.
Our body does a lot for us, and screening tests are a way we can help our bodies in their work. While acting on these test reports is essential, so is listening to our own body and a certified medical practitioner who is trained and has vowed to help humanity in staying healthy. The key here is finding the right balance between screening tests, their results and the need to undergo treatment. The level of treatment required should always be ascertained by a medical practitioner to get the best results.

– Sneha Sinha

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