The overdiagnosis of what? On the relationship between the concepts of overdiagnosis, disease, and diagnosis
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionMedicine, Health care and Philosophy. 2017, 20 (4), 453-464. 10.1007/s11019-017-9776-z
Overdiagnosis and disease are related concepts. Widened conceptions of disease increase overdiagnosis and vice versa. This is partly because there is a close and complex relationship between disease and overdiagnosis. In order to address the problems with overdiagnosis, we may benefit from a closer understanding this relationship. Accordingly, the objective of this article is to elucidate the relationship between disease and overdiagnosis. To do so, the article starts with scrutinizing how overdiagnosis can explain the expansion of the concept of disease. Then it investigates how definitions of disease address various challenges of overdiagnosis. The article specifically investigates recent attempts to clarify the relationship between the concepts of disease and overdiagnosis. Several shortcomings are identified and lead to a closer analysis of overdiagnosis in the diagnostic process. Contrary to recent contributions to the field, it is argued that cases of overdiagnosis are not cases of disease. They are non-verified labelling of disease. It is revealed how overdiagnosis establishes an unwarranted link between indicative phenomena, such as polyps or cell changes, and harm, and thereby generates a link to disease. One implication of this study is that we should stop attributing disease language to indicative phenomena. That is, we should stop calling it “cancer screening” when we are actually searching for polyps. Another implications is that we should strive for scientific progress in differentiating phenomena that are of negative value to us from those that are not. In overdiagnosis we diagnose something that is not disease: it is over-diagnosis.