Defining Secondary Prevention

Defining Secondary Prevention

Prevention is “all measures to avoid or reduce the number and severity of illness, accident and disability” (World Health Organization, 1948). It brings together all the actions, attitudes and behaviors that tend to avoid the occurrence of a disease or a health problem and to maintain or improve health. Secondary prevention aims to reduce the prevalence of disease, the number of cases present in a given period, the number depending on the incidence and duration of the disease. It covers actions to act very early in the onset of the disorder or condition to oppose his changes (World Health Organization, 1984). In this logic, screening or early diagnosis of the disease is essential in order to implement early therapeutic strategies to prevent disease progression. Everything is implemented to detect and treat early disease or health problem to limit the adverse consequences. It is for people who have a risk factor for contracting a disease (eg overweight likely to announce diabetes type 2) or suffer from symptoms whose intensity is not sufficient (called prodrome) for the diagnosis of a disease (such as shortness of breath on more intense than usual, which may be susceptible to announce cardiovascular or respiratory disease) effort.


An American commission on chronic illness proposed in 1957 one of the first definition of prevention in the field of health “all measures to avoid or reduce the number and severity of illness, accident and disability” (Commission on Chronic Illness, 1957). To consider all forms of action to prevent, the World Health Organization to distinguish three categories since 1984 depending on when preventive action is proposed, (1) primary prevention that attempts to avoid occurrence of a disease or health problem, (2) secondary prevention, which aims to halt or delay the progression of disease through early detection and appropriate treatment, or to reduce the risk of relapse and chronicity and (3) tertiary prevention that occurs after the onset of the disease, which tends to reduce the damage caused by the disease. If other definitions exist in the literature (Bourdillon, 2006; Trivalle, 2002), the classification of the World Health Organization from 1984 is the most commonly accepted.


Secondary prevention targets people is declared sick, disabled or incarcerated or in the process of becoming (eg smokers at risk of cancer people).

The general message

Early detection of disease avoids many tragic consequences. In breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example, evidence of its usefulness is done.

What it means for Health Professionals

Search allows early disease mostly to avoid tragic consequences later for a patient. This mission should in one way or another involve educators, social workers, administrative staff, not just caregivers or medical work.

What it means for Researchers

Scientific progress on testing are spectacular. They have become more reliable. Health professionals and locate more and earlier disease. But what about the result? Ethical reflection is needed to tell the patient that if no treatment option exists.

What it means for Policymakers

Scientific progress on testing are spectacular. They have become more reliable. Health professionals and locate increasingly early disease and can either cure or slow its progression.


Commission on Chronic Illness (1957). Chronic illness in the United States. Cambridge : Harvard University Press.

World Health Organization (1984). Glossary. Geneva : WHO Editions.

Trivalle C. (2002). Gérontologie préventive. Paris : Masson.

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To reference this Blog en Sante © article.

Ninot G (2014). Definition of secondary prevention. Blog en Sante, L13.

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