What is screening?
Screening is the process of identifying people who appear healthy but may be at increased risk of a disease or condition. Screening programmes are designed to detect early signs of a disease or condition and to provide referral and treatment where necessary.
Why is screening important?
Screening can save lives by detecting the early signs of a disease or condition before symptoms develop, and when treatment is most likely to be effective.
Screening is distinct from other health services in that it is offered to people who do not feel unwell. It is therefore important that people receive guidance to help them make informed choices about whether screening is right for them. There are some risks involved in screening and it is important that people have realistic expectations of what screening can offer.
Whilst screening can save lives through early detection, screening does not guarantee complete protection. A low risk result from a screening test does not stop a person developing the condition at a later stage.
No screening test is 100% accurate. Screening can produce ‘false positive’ results - when a person is wrongly reported as having the condition - which can lead to unnecessary worry and investigations when there is no disease present. Screening can also produce ‘false negative’ results - when a person is wrongly reported as not having the condition – and this can provide false reassurance.
The UK National Screening Committee
The UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) is an expert advisory group which advises Ministers and the NHS in the four UK countries about all aspects of screening policy using the international research evidence base and establishing pilot programmes where appropriate to collect additional evidence.
The UK NSC regularly reviews national screening programmes to ensure they remain relevant and fit for purpose.