Emotional impact of screening: a systematic review and meta-analysis

BMC Public Health. 2011 Jul 28;11:603. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-603.


Background: There is a widely held expectation that screening for disease has adverse emotional impacts. The aim of the current review is to estimate the short (< 4 weeks) and longer term (> 4 weeks) emotional impact of such screening.

Methods: Studies selected for inclusion were (a) randomised controlled trials in which (b) participants in one arm underwent screening and received test results, and those in a control arm did not, and (c) emotional outcomes were assessed in both arms. MEDLINE via PubMed (1950 to present), EMBASE (1980 to present), PsycINFO (1985 to present) using OVID SP, and CINAHL (1982 to present) via EBSCO were searched, using strategies developed with keywords and medical subject headings. Data were extracted on emotional outcomes, type of screening test and test results.

Results: Of the 12 studies that met the inclusion criteria, six involved screening for cancer, two for diabetes, and one each for abdominal aortic aneurysms, peptic ulcer, coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. Five studies reported data on anxiety, five [corrected] on depression, two on general distress and eight on quality of life assessed between one week and 13 years after screening (median = 1.3 years).Meta-analyses revealed no significant impact of screening on longer term anxiety (pooled SMD 0.01, 95% CI -0.10, 0.11), depression (pooled SMD -0.04, 95% CI -.12, 0.20), or quality of life subscales (mental and self-assessed health pooled SMDs, respectively: 0.03; -0.01, (95% CI -.02, 0.04; 0.00, 95% CI -.04, 0.03).

Conclusion: Screening does not appear to have adverse emotional impacts in the longer term (> 4 weeks). Too few studies assessed outcomes before four weeks to comment on the shorter term emotional impact of screening.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / psychology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors