Can attempts to detect a disease early lead to harm?

It is intuitive that the earlier you detect a disease the better, as the more effective the treatment is likely to be. But is this really the case?

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Published: Spring 2015

Since studying for the Ophthalmic Public Health course at Leeds University a few years ago, I have been fascinated by the concept that attempts to detect a disease early can lead to harm. As a clinician it is intuitive to me (and I’m sure many of you reading this) that the earlier you detect a disease the better, as the more effective the treatment is likely to be. After all, look at the time and effort we spend in trying to detect glaucoma early (both in primary and secondary care). We also promote this message when telling patients how important it is to have regular eye examinations.

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