A cascade effect is an inevitable and sometimes unforeseen chain of events due to an act affecting a system. If there is a possibility that the cascade effect will have a negative impact on the system, it is possible to analyze the effects with a consequence/impact analysis. Cascade effects are commonly visualised in tree structures, also called event trees.
Cascade effects seen in the perspective of space travelling are theoretical possibilities that "space junk" or a satellite destroyed by a meteor will send debris throughout the orbits of most telecommunication satellites destroying them in the process and subsequently sending that debris into all possible orbits, destroying everything in orbit around the Earth, known as the Kessler syndrome. It is theorized that if this occurs, space flight beyond Earth will become very difficult if not impossible.
In biology, according to Mold and Stein, the term cascade refers to "a process that, once started, proceeds stepwise to its full, seemingly inevitable, conclusion". In medicine, cascade effect may also refer to a chain of events initiated by an unnecessary test, an unexpected result, or patient or physician anxiety, which results in ill-advised tests or treatments that may cause harm to patients as the results are pursued. An example would be ordering a full body CT scan without a clear reason, finding an incidentaloma and undergoing a debilitating surgery to remove it, despite the fact that the condition was asymptomatic and possibly benign.
- Mold JW, Stein HF (1986). "The cascade effect in the clinical care of patients". New England Journal of Medicine 314 (8): 512–514. doi:10.1056/NEJM198602203140809. PMID 3945278.
- Richard A. Deyo (May 2002). "Cascade effects of medical technology". Annual Review of Public Health 23: 23–44. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.23.092101.134534. PMID 11910053.
- Chidiac RM; Aron DC (Mar 1997). "Incidentalomas. A disease of modern technology". Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America 26 (1): 233–53. doi:10.1016/S0889-8529(05)70242-5. PMID 9074861.