Importance of Health Screening Tests

Importance of Health Screening Tests

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What is the Importance of Health Screening Tests?

"It is health that is real wealth" - Mahatma Gandhi

Health is securely placed atop the invaluable hierarchy and we all know the reason why! Once health is lost, we become a burden to ourselves, to those around and to the society at large. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves to safe guard our health.

Health screening along with a healthy diet and exercise, is necessary for maintaining good health and a higher quality of life. Health screening and timely or regular testing is vital for detecting tell-tale signs of sickness, for providing the necessary impetus to understand one’s health and make changes whenever necessary.

Screening can help us live longer and healthier lives. Screening essentially helps in identifying diseases in people who do not yet have any symptoms or signs of it.

Mass screening for certain common diseases is often recommended and can be cost effective for a selected community or a country. The goal of such screening is to improve health outcomes, An example is early detection of high blood pressure. Such a detection can help prevent stroke and heart disease by timely start of medication and counseling for lifestyle changes such as losing weight, giving up smoking, cutting down on salt and regular exercises. Another example is Pap smear for early detection of cervical cancer. An early detection of the cancer usually means a very high cure rate. Some mass screening programmes may not improve health outcomes and prostate cancer screening for men is one such example.

The unraveling of human genetic code and advances being made in genetic research has meant that many diseases are getting identified to have a genetic cause. In the near future screening will become even more important. In fact some companies are already offering their services by doing a genetic profile of a person and providing them a risk profile of potential diseases that they maybe prone to..

Selective screening maybe advocated when there is family history or if a person is exposed to risk factors like carcinogens.

Screening - Cancer

Cancer is a disease that is eating its way steadily into the fabric of modern society. Most cancers are sporadic and some of them are life style- induced. 10% of them display a familial pattern of inheritance.

Cancer can actually be considered a multi-factorial disease with a combination of genes and environment playing a role as its causative factors.

Health screenings and regular check ups will definitely help to detect cancer at an early stage and the disease can even be forced to enter long-term remission.

Let’s take a look at how the following cancers can be screened:

a) Breast cancer – This is a common cancer among women. Those with a family history of BC should screen for mutant BRCA. Even otherwise, those above the age of 45 years would benefit from a mammogram which is the routine test used to screen breast cancer

b) Prostate cancer –This cancer is a common reason for mortality among men. Prostate specific antigen (PSA) assay and digital rectal examination may be carried out for men between the ages of 50-70 years. For those with a family history the exam must be carried out by 45 years.

c) Cervical cancer – Pap smear test is a cervical cancer test recommended for all sexually active women. Routine Pap smear test has helped to dramatically lower the incidence of cervical cancer.

d) Kidney cancer-A urine test may be carried out to check for presence of blood. Other tests to screen for kidney cancer include blood tests, CT scan and intravenous pyelogram

e) Colorectal cancer –People who are at a higher risk of acquiring colorectal cancer, such as diabetics, must do routine screening for colorectal cancer.

Screening tests include digital rectal examination, stool guaiac testing (Hemoccult), proctosigmoidoscopy and/or pancolonoscopy, and barium enema with air-contrast studies.

Screening - Lifestyle Diseases

Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure are escalating at breakneck speed and it would only be prudent on anyone’s part to be vigilant by screening regularly for these diseases.

High blood pressure can even cause other ailments such as kidney damage. Regular health monitoring can initiate early management; sometimes the disease can even be controlled without medications.

In this article we attempt to take a look at some of the lifestyle diseases and the types of screening tests that are suitable for each of them:–

Atherosclerosis / Heart Diseases

Atherosclerosis is the thickening of the arteries that may lead to heart attack. Those at risk, such as the obese, the smokers, the hypertensive and the diabetics, may well benefit from routine cardiac check ups including thread mill, ECHO and MRI.

Type 2 diabetes

Simple blood tests taken on an empty stomach and also after meals. Urine tests may also help to detect type 2 diabetes.

Screening - Kidney Diseases

Those with diabetes, hypertension or a family history of kidney diseases are at a high risk of developing kidney diseases. Regular screening helps to detect the disease at an early stage.

The following tests would help to routinely screen Kidney diseases:
  • Blood test to check for creatinine
  • Urine test to check for protein
  • BP value check

Polycystic kidney disease

For those who are suspected to have polycystic kidney disease, screening can be carried out with ultrasonography or MRI.

Screening - Familial / Genetic Diseases

Familial diseases are diseases that are passed down from generation to generation. Genetic diseases are often confused with familial diseases but it must be taken into account that genetic diseases need not be hereditary but may occur as a result of spontaneous mutations. No family is free of genetic diseases.

The following is a tabulation of population groups, the associated disorders and the screening tests available. These tests are usually carried out post-natally.


a) Cystic fibrosis

DNA analysis of a sample of blood or of cells from the inside of the cheek

Ashkenazi Jews

a) Canavan disease

DNA analysis of a sample of blood or of cells from the inside of the cheek

b) Familial dysautonomia

(Hereditary dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system)

DNA analysis of a sample of blood or of cells from the inside of the cheek

c) Tay-Sachs disease

Blood tests to measure the enzyme that is deficient in this disorder (hexosaminidase A).

Possibly DNA analysis


a) Sickle cell anemia-

Blood tests to check for abnormal hemoglobin


a) Tay-Sachs disease-

Blood tests to measure the enzyme that is deficient in this disorder (hexosaminidase A)

Possibly DNA analysis

Mediterranean people

a) beta -Thalassemia-

Blood tests to measure the average size of red blood cells (mean corpuscular volume)

Southeast Asians, Cambodians, Chinese, Filipinos, Laotians, and Vietnamese

a) alpha -Thalassemia-

If average size is small, blood tests to check for abnormal hemoglobin

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