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This review examines methods for estimating the risk of post-surgical ectasia in candidates for refractive surgery by establishing a diagnosis of keratoconus suspect as a contraindication for proceeding with surgery. Notwithstanding the desirability of achieving 100 per cent sensitivity, any associated reduction in specificity and increased numbers of false positives might deny some candidates the opportunity to proceed with refractive surgery. The introduction of a model for the risk of ectasia involving both pre- and post-surgical findings has been followed by a plethora of attempts to achieve the same purpose based on topographic and/or tomographic evaluation before surgery. The desirability of being able to depend on objective assessment using one type of instrument needs to be weighed against the possibility that subjective assessments may contribute significantly to screening success. For example, consideration of ethnicity, family history of keratoconus, a history of atopy or ocular allergies in particular, a history of significant exposure to corneal trauma associated with abnormal rubbing habits or with vocational, leisure or geographically increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation or with contact lens wear trauma or a history of significant exposure to activities which elevate intraocular pressure may improve screening success. To the extent that these factors could contribute to increased risk of the development of keratoconus, they may be useful in estimating the risk of post-surgical ectasia. If any combination of these factors helps to explain the development of keratoconus in normal or even thicker than normal corneas, they may have more significance for those corneas, which have been thinned surgically.