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"Are Health Tests Really a Good Idea?" on BBC Earth

Photo Credit: BBC Earth

Photo Credit: BBC Earth

Are expensive scans worth it? What about DNA testing for diseases? In this surprising and insightful film Michael Mosley investigates the real value of health tests.

Despite living longer and healthier lives than ever before, we have never been more obsessed with our health. And in an effort to detect the signs of silent killers lurking inside, more and more of us are turning to health tests, in the hope that if we catch it early, more can be done to help. Detecting the early signs of disease has to be a good idea… or does it? 

In this surprising film human guinea pig Michael Mosley puts himself through a battery of health tests available to people who feel perfectly well. He starts with tests that aim to prevent one of our biggest killers, heart disease, undergoing a simple assessment and a state of the art heart CT scan, and asks whether the pricey Harley street test was really worth the cash… 

He then undergoes a bowel scope procedure that aims to snip out precancerous polyps in the bowel, and examines the science behind common tests for breast and prostate cancer. Finally he moves on to the brave new world of genetic screening, undergoing a consumer genetic test that promises to assess your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and an exciting experimental test that can assess how well your body is aging… 

But what about the risks associated with these tests? Very quickly Michael comes to realise that these all tests have significant drawbacks…Scans come with radiation exposure and even the simplest of tests lead to anxiety. But perhaps the most unexpected problem is overdiagnosis – diagnosing disease in people that would never have caused them problems in their lifetime…. with the alarming consequence of turning perfectly well people into patients who receive medication, surgery and even chemotherapy. All of which asks Michael to ask the question – does testing healthy people actually do more harm than good?

BBC Earth is on Starhub Channel 407.