In-Depth: Screening Tests

Do You Need These Screening Tests?

Screening tests are meant to detect diseases in people who have no symptoms. For instance, your healthcare provider might test you for early signs of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis. Screening tests help spot problems early, when they are easier to treat. Sometimes this can improve your health and help you live longer.

But screening tests have risks. And not everyone needs every screening test. So it’s important to know which ones you need, and how often you need them.

Contents of This Section

Why Some Tests Might Be Unnecessary and Even Harmful
Working With Your Doctor to Avoid Needless Tests
Learn More About the Pros and Cons of These Tests
What Doctors Have to Say About Screening Tests
Share These Videos About Screening Tests

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Why Some Tests Might Be Unnecessary and Even Harmful

Screening tests help doctors look for diseases when you don’t have symptoms. The tests can find problems early, when they are easier to treat.

Sometimes this can improve your health and help you live longer.

But it’s important to know which tests you need, and how often you need them.

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Screening Tests: When you need them -- and when you don't :

Screening can create a false alarm instead of finding a serious problem. That’s especially true if you have a low risk of having the disease that the test is trying to find. False alarms often lead to more tests and procedures, such as a biopsy. This can lead to medical harm, wasted money, and unneeded anxiety.

Talk with your doctor about the screening tests that are right for you. The decision depends on:

• Your age, sex, overall health, and family history.

• Your risk factors for certain diseases.

• Your personal preferences.

Working With Your Doctor to Avoid Needless Tests

In the Choosing Wisely series, medical organiza­tions have listed screening tests that may not be necessary, are used too often, or may even be more harmful than useful. 

CR has written these short guides to help you talk with your doctor about specific screening tests -- so that you can decide together what's best for you.

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Allergy Tests If you don’t have symptoms or a medical evaluation that points to allergy, think twice about skin or blood tests.

Hard Decisions About Cancer Some tests, treatments, and procedures are not only unnecessary, they can even prove harmful.

Chest X-rays Before Surgery If you don’t have signs or symptoms of heart or lung disease, think twice about having a pre-operative X-ray.

EKGs and Exercise Stress Tests EKGs or exercise stress tests usually aren't necessary for people without symptoms.

5 Ways to be Smart About Ovarian Cancer Here's what you can do to prevent ovarian cancer, know your risks, know the symptoms to watch for, know when to get tested, and know when not to get tested.

Health Checkups You probably don't need that yearly checkup. In fact, it can do more harm than good.

Lab Tests Before Surgery  Most healthy people don't need blood or urine tests done before surgery, especially low-risk surgery.

Medical Tests Before Eye Surgery Most people don't need to have their blood tested or their heart checked before they have eye surgery.

Pap Tests Many teenage girls and some women have the test when they don’t need it.

PSA Blood Test for Prostate Cancer The PSA screening test is widely used, but often is not needed.

Learn More About the Pros and Cons of These Tests

These articles, from Consumer Reports and from the Consumer Reports on Health newsletter, provide the insights behind our advice on safe, effective screening for health conditions. 

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The Business of Healing Hearts Cardiac care is a money-making machine that too often favors profit over science.

The Cancer Tests You Really Need The list of tinkers, tweaks, and about-faces on cancer screening keeps getting longer. 

Cancer Tests and Treatments When you need that cancer screening test -- and when you don't.

Eight Health Tests You Need Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs a complete head-to-toe physical each and every year.

Guide to Colon Cancer Prevention Prevention strategies and screening tests could help cut the number of deaths in the U.S. from colorectal cancer—if only people took full advantage of them.

Your Biggest Heart Disease Questions Answered Confused by all the news? What you really need to do right now. 

Ratings of Heart Disease Screening Tests To help you choose the tests that are best for you, based on your age, gender, and risk level, here are our Ratings of heart screening tests.

Should You be Screened for Lung Cancer? Only if you're at high risk, according to new recommendations from the doctors who do the test.

What Doctors Have to Say About Screening Tests

The American College of Physicians has summarized its recommendations on many medical screening tests. Some tests will be useful for you. Some won't be. It often depends on your age, risk and health history.

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Screening for Prostate Cancer Because your chances of being harmed by the results of a prostate screening test are greater than your chances of benefiting from it, men should talk with their doctor and decide together if the test is right for them.

Cervical Cancer Screening in Average-Risk Women  The ACP offers advice for when a woman should be screened for cervical cancer and which screening tests should be used, based on the woman's age and risk.

Screening for Cancer  The ACP provides advice statements for screening for five common types of cancer. Doctors and patients should consider the value of screening strategies and choose high-value options.

Cardiac Screening With Electrocardiography, Stress Echocardiography, or Myocardial Perfusion Imaging The ACP recommends that clinicians not screen low-risk patients who do not have symptoms for cardiac disease. Clinicians and patients should focus on possible risk factors that can be changed.

Screening, Monitoring, and Treatment of Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease Healthy adults with no risk factors for Chronic Kidney Disease should not be screened for it.

Screening Pelvic Examination in Nonpregnant Adult Women Doctors should not do pelvic exams on adult women who are not pregnant and do not have symptoms of pelvic disease.