Screening for hemochromatosis. A public health perspective

Am J Prev Med. 1999 Feb;16(2):134-40. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00141-x.


Context: The discovery of the HFE gene in 1996 has introduced DNA testing as a possible tool for screening and diagnosis of hemochromatosis and increased interest in the disorder. Population screening using transferrin saturation has been advocated by experts to permit early detection and treatment with phlebotomy before the onset of clinical disease.

Methods: Based on a literature review, we consider the relative risks and merits of two screening tests as part of a broader look at the evidence required for the recommendation of universal screening for hemochromatosis.

Results: Several questions must be answered before universal screening can be recommended. Uncertainties remain about the penetrance and preventable disease burden, laboratory standardization, and optimal strategies to minimize potential risks of screening for hemochromatosis.

Conclusions: As a common genetic disorder with simple, effective therapy, hemochromatosis offers a model for other genetically influenced chronic diseases that some day may have interventions to improve prognosis. Resolution of questions related to prevention of chronic diseases from hemochromatosis, therefore, will have broad usefulness in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost of Illness
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Genetic Testing / methods*
  • Health Policy
  • Hemochromatosis / blood
  • Hemochromatosis / diagnosis*
  • Hemochromatosis / epidemiology
  • Hemochromatosis / genetics*
  • Hemochromatosis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Penetrance
  • Phlebotomy
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Transferrin / metabolism
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Transferrin