Do You Really Need That Test?

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It May Do More Harm Than Good

Medical tests can be valuable—even lifesaving—for people with symptoms or risk factors. But if there is no reason to have tests, they can do more harm than good. For example, unnecessary CT scans and X-rays expose you to potentially cancer-causing radiation.

Here are a few examples of overused tests:

  • Yearly electrocardiogram: If you have a low risk for heart disease (and have never had symptoms), you are more likely to get a false-positive result than to find a true problem, and that could lead to unnecessary heart catheterization and stents.
  • Prostate cancer test: Up to 75% of PSA tests that show high PSA levels are false alarms, leading to unnecessary ultrasounds, lab tests and biopsies. Generally, only men ages 55 to 69 should get a PSA test.
  • X-ray, CT scan or MRI for lower back pain: These usually don’t pinpoint the cause of pain, and they can lead to surgery and other procedures that are often ineffective.
  • Yearly Pap tests: Every three years is fine for most women, up to age 65.
  • Colonoscopy after age 75: The risk of complications—perforated colon, incontinence, diarrhea, constipation—outweigh the benefits.

Before you get any test or treatment, ask your doctor if it is necessary. Find out about potential risks … and what would happen if you don’t have the test done at all. There may be simpler, safer options that that are right for you. Learn more at

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