By Chris Adams

Screening for cancer in healthy patients has been a major focus of the medical community for decades. But is there a case to be made that too much screening can actually be an unhealthy thing?

Jennifer Croswell, a medical officer at the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said that sometimes it can be.

“I don’t think that all screening is bad… I do think that some screening is valuable,” she said. “What I think is that, traditionally, public health messaging has kind of oversold its value.”

One pitfall Croswell shared in a session with National Press Foundation fellows is that screening can lead to over-diagnosis – or finding disease that would never have harmed the person, or even been detected in the absence of screening. And since all treatment comes with its own risks, the potential harm to a patient from such a diagnosis is real.