... we might argue, screening can't do any harm. Well, sadly it can.


Motherhood in Western Europe

Insights from Western European Mothers

The changing face of motherhood — Western Europe

The accompanying reports combine a review of existing literature with an analysis of original quantitative data derived from a poll of 9,582 mothers from 12 countries in Western Europe, making it one of the largest studies of this kind ever conducted

Child Obesity and Health

An analysis of the latest available data from the Health Survey for England (HSE)

Child Obesity and Health — download the full report in pdf format

In this ‘National Childhood Obesity Week’, the SIRC report, Children, obesity and heath: Recent trends, holds up a true mirror, accurately reflecting the trend towards slimmer, healthier children. more

The Future of Freemasonry

An examination of the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century


This report is, as far as we know, an account of the first ever study that has been commissioned by Freemasons from a non-Masonic body. None of the SIRC members involved in the project are Freemasons, a fact that evoked surprise and welcome in equal measure from the Lodge members we met. more

The Changing Face of Motherhood

Insights from three generations of mothers


The report seeks to answer some specific questions about the changing face of motherhood and determine the extent to which modern ‘solutions’ to motherhood are more or less beneficial than the solutions of the past. more

Do healthy adults need screening

Routine screening is now part of what we take to be responsible, preventative medicine. Most people assume that there are significant benefits to be gained from such procedures. Surely, if potentially fatal diseases can be detected at an early stage and cured, then we should be screened more often.

But does screening actually work? David Bender, writing in HealthWatch, warns us that the evidence is less good than we might imagine.

"Extensive check ups costing several hundreds of pounds each, though popular with many executives, (especially if their employers pick up the bill) show little if any, benefit apart from the detection of high blood pressure."

Bender also notes that even in the case of breast cancer, screening is of little benefit to women under the age of 50. Other forms of cancer screening, including bowel and prostate, are similarly disappointing in terms of the number of lives that they save. Even so, we might argue, screening can't do any harm. Well, sadly it can. Bender focuses on the anxieties generated by screening:

"Many of those given a complete medical check up will now be labelled as unhealthy in some way. If no cure is available may this not sometimes adversely affect the peace of mind and quality of life of people who had previously thought of themselves as healthy? As for cancer, if the result of a smear or mammogram is doubtful (as is quite common) intense anxiety may be caused. Further tests will need to be done and distressing doubt may continue for weeks or even months."

In extreme cases, the anxieties generated by possibly false positive tests in screening can be fatal. As reported in the Daily Telegraph , doctors have identified two women in the UK who committed suicide after receiving a breast cancer screening 'recall' letter.

A new survey in Sweden, reported in The British Medical Journal, indicates that breast screening in that country led to 100,000 women being wrongly informed that they had breast cancer. Of these, 16,000 had undergone biopsy and 400 had been subjexted to surgical operations, including mastectomy. The leading researcher in this study, Dr Goran Sjïnell, commented:

"Women should be warned about the potentially negative consequences of screening"

Neither Bender nor Sjïnell is arguing that we should abandon all forms of health screening. They do, however, warn against the exaggerated claims of some screening proponents and urge that people should not be coerced into check ups just to satisfy GP's quotas or some other popular 'campaign'.

By the way, next time you see your doctor, ask when he or she had a full medical check up. That might give you an indication of how much confidence the medics themselves have in screening procedures.