The scientific merits of screening programmes for prostate cancer, lung cancer and post-natal depression are to be examined by MPs.

The Science and Technology Committee has launched an inquiry into national health screening programmes to see whether they should be extended to include such conditions.

Screening programmes - where people are tested for illnesses they might not show symptoms for - are carried out for a variety of conditions.

For example, the NHS Cancer Screening Programme was set up to detect whether people are suffering from breast, bowel and cervical cancer. Meanwhile the NHS Health Check screens adults for a number of common problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

After calls were made for such programmes to be expanded to cover more illnesses, the committee has launched the inquiry to examine the issue through scientific evidence.

Committee chair Andrew Miller said: “The NHS spends a significant amount of money on health screening and it is important that this is underpinned by good scientific evidence.

“Thousands of women are screened for breast cancer every year and lives are saved as a result. But there may also be women who undergo unnecessary treatment and surgery as a result of screening.

“Calls to extend screening to other conditions should ensure that there is good evidence that the screening would be effective.

“We will be examining the evidence base behind the decisions on which illnesses to screen for and will be asking whether we are currently getting these decisions right in the UK.”