Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, a massive review of medical data found that getting regular checkups doesn't reduce the chances of dying from serious diseases like cancer and heart disease.
It has long been accepted that regular physicals allow doctors to detect and treat problems early, and thereby head off serious illness or death.
But a study by the internationally recognized Cochrane Collaboration, which conducts and publishes systematic reviews of health-care research, found that isn't the case. In fact, more checkups lead to what is called overdiagnosis — identifying and treating conditions that might never have shown symptoms or cause death.
In one trial, those who'd had regular checkups were more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. In another, they received more diagnoses "of all kinds," the review found.
When researchers looked at 11,940 deaths in nine of the trials combined, they saw no difference in the number of deaths between those who had and those who had not had routine checkups — not even when it came to death from cancer or heart disease.
"What we're not saying is that doctors should stop carrying out tests or offering treatment when they suspect there may be a problem," said lead researcher Lasse Krogsboll of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen. "But we do think that public health-care initiatives that are systematically offering general health checks should be resisted."
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