Are Tests Always Needed?

A review of the UNH Dialogue Series, Too Much Information: “Do I Really Need to Have That Test? Understanding risk and making medical decisions in the age of TMI” By Dr. Gene Harkless

 In the recent UNH Dialogue “TMI” discussion on “decision making in the age of information overload”, one of my own professors Dr. Gene Harkless took an in depth look at the medical perspective of “too much information”. Dr. Harkless asks “is treatment always needed” as she looked at a study revolving around PAP smears and young women. It has always been recommended for young women 21 and older to have an annual pap smear in order to screen for and possible prevent cervical cancer. Studies show however that of 2-3 million Pap tests interpreted as abnormal, less that 15% progress to invasive cervical cancer. Now, it is proposed that women under 21 not be screened and after 21 a screening should be done almost every three years. “This less aggressive approach prevents unnecessary interventions for mild abnormalities that will revert back to normal on their own while preserving the important benefits of cancer screening”. Under this new guideline you may be saving more than you realize. Besides the fact you no longer have to pay for a Pap smear every year, if abnormal cells were found, physicians may begin costly interventions, while the majority of abnormal findings either revert back to normal on their own or are false findings. Less than 25% of clinicians are following this new recommendation so speak to yours about what is best for you and your health. Depending on your age, sexual activity, whether you have the HPV vaccine and other factors, you may need to be screened more than others but its worth asking for the sake of your wallet.

You can read the whole essay by. Dr. Gene Harkless and other essays on the topic of TMI  at the UNH Dialogue site.