What Are the Benefits and Risks of Screening?
Benefit of Screening
The benefit of screening is finding cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Risks of Screening
False Positive Test Results
Harms can include false positive test results, when a doctor sees something that looks like cancer but is not. This can lead to more tests, which can be expensive, invasive, time-consuming, and may cause anxiety.
Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment
Tests also can lead to overdiagnosis, when doctors find a cancer that would not have gone on to cause symptoms or problems, or even may go away on its own. Treatment of these cancers is called overtreatment. Overtreatment can include treatments recommended for breast cancer, such as surgery or radiation therapy. These can cause unnecessary and unwanted side effects. Other potential harms from breast cancer screening include pain during the procedure and radiation exposure from the mammogram test itself. While the amount of radiation in a mammogram is small, there may be risks with having repeated X-rays.
False Negative Test Results
Mammograms may also miss some cancers, called false negative test results, which may delay finding a cancer and getting treatment.
Talk to Your Doctor
Sometimes it can be hard to decide if you should get a screening test. Talk to your doctor to understand the possible benefits and risks to make the right decision for you.