Preventing overdiagnosis: How to stop harming the healthy

Ray Moynihan*, Jenny Doust, David Henry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

489 Citations (Scopus)


[Extract] Evidence is mounting that medicine is harming healthy people through ever earlier detection and ever wider definition of disease. With the announcement of an international conference to improve understanding of the problem of overdiagnosis, Ray Moynihan, Jenny Doust, and David Henry examine its causes and explore solutions

Medicine’s much hailed ability to help the sick is fast being challenged by its propensity to harm the healthy. A burgeoning scientific literature is fuelling public concerns that too many people are being overdosed, overtreated, and overdiagnosed. Screening programmes are detecting early cancers that will never cause symptoms or death,4 sensitive diagnostic technologies identify “abnormalities” so tiny they will remain benign,5 while widening disease definitions mean people at ever lower risks receive permanent medical labels and lifelong treatments that will fail to benefit many of them. With estimates that more than $200bn (£128bn; €160bn) may be wasted on unnecessary treatment every year in the United States,7 the cumulative burden from overdiagnosis poses a significant threat to human health.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3502
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7859
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2012


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