Monday, November 5, 2007
Measuring the psychosocial consequences of screening
The last three decades have seen a dramatic rise in the implementation of screening programmes for cancer in industrialised countries. However, in contrast to screening for infectious diseases, most cancer screening programmes only have the potential to reduce mortality; they cannot lower the incidence of cancer in a population. In fact, most cancer screening programmes have been shown to increase the incidence of the disease as a consequence of over-diagnosis. A further dilemma of cancer screening programmes is that they do not distinguish between healthy people and those with disease. Rather, they identify a continuum of disease severity. Consequently, many healthy people who have abnormal screening tests are wrongly diagnosed. Indeed, studies have demonstrated that for each screening-prevented death from cancer, at least 200 false-positive results are given. Therefore, screening has the potential to be harmful as well as beneficial. The psychosocial consequences of false-positive screening results cannot be determined by diagnostic tests or by other technical means. Instead, patient reported outcome measures must be employed. To measure the outcomes of screening accurately and comprehensively patient reported outcome measures have to capture; the nature and extent of the psychosocial consequences and how these change over time. The outcome measures used must have high content validity and their psychometric properties should be determined prior to their use in the specific population. In particular it is important to establish unidimensionality, additivity and item ordering through the application of Item Response Theory.