Screening Paradoxon

In the field of public health the screening paradoxon is a well-known feature of large scale programs to check for and contain the large increases in cancer among populations. A recent medical study underscores the necessity to curtail the screening paradox in Europe. The screening paradoxon is defined as “the underuse of screening by those with unhealthy lifestyles and high risks”. The opposite cases, “the overuse of screening by those with healthy lifestyles and low risks” only cause a problem for the costs of the health system as those unlikely of attaining a form of cancer make extensive use of screening. In terms of social inequality we have to be concerned about both ends of these distributions. The publicly available screening programs are skewed towards the higher educated with risk awareness as well as healthy life styles. More of them participate in screening. The other distribution of actual risks and detection of cancer is skewed towards the other end of the risk distribution. The 2 probability distributions overlap to an extent that is most likely co-determined by cultural factors like general attitudes towards prevention.
With the increase in cancer rates generally and due to demographic aging of societies, we shall need to target our resources devoted to health more precisely rather than spending too much on screening of people with very low risks. Increasing the duration between screenings might not impede detection rates of those with healthy lifestyles, but could allow to devote more resources to those people who are hard to reach by screening programs so far. Evaluations of such programs are necessary to judge the need for more targeted programs.(Image own representation inspired by Ola et al. 2024)