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February 8, 2012

The Harms of Screening: New Attention to an Old Concern

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Family Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (Dr Woolf); and University of North Carolina School of Medicine and School of Public Health, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Dr Harris).

JAMA. 2012;307(6):565-566. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.100

Americans are enthusiastic about screening, especially cancer screening.1 What could be wrong with screening, especially if it can detect a life-threatening condition at an earlier stage? Trials show that early detection of breast, colorectal, and other cancers can reduce cause-specific mortality rates, and the same could apply to other conditions. With presumably little to lose and much to gain from early detection, why recommend against screening unless the concern is costs? Are lives being lost to save money?

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