Should We Scan Our Bodies to See What Might Lurk?

Preventative full-body scans are becoming more in-demand among the wealthy
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 3, 2023 9:04 AM CDT
Should We Scan Our Bodies to See What Might Lurk?
An MRI machine.   (Getty Images / PhonlamaiPhoto)

"In September when everybody comes back from the Hamptons and they all start getting physicals for the year, I'm sure I'm going to get a lot more requests." What they're seeking, the doctor tells the Wall Street Journal, are preventative full-body scans—meaning ones not ordered due to a specific medical concern but just to essentially see if anything is lurking that can be addressed early. They aren't cheap—expect to pay $650 to several thousand, usually without any help from insurance—and as such, doctors say their popularity is growing among wealthy patients.

The scans come with their own caveats: MRI versions don't involve radiation, but CT scans do, and they can return false positives (the Journal cites a meta-analysis of studies that put the false-positive rate for the MRI version at 16%) that fuel anxiety, follow-up procedures, and the potential for complications (for instance, the possibility that the biopsy of a spotted mass unintentionally causes an infection). That's led the American College of Preventive Medicine to issue a formal guidance recommending against them in asymptomatic patients, with the organization's president flatly calling them "a bad idea."

The American College of Radiology is equally sour on them: "There is no documented evidence that total body screening is cost-efficient or effective in prolonging life," it said in April. But at CNET, Jessica Rendall argues there's revolutionary potential there. "If these scans can reach the whole population—not just the select few who can afford one—and come with a standardized way for doctors to interpret results, full-body MRIs may have the potential to transform primary care and make late-stage diagnoses a preventable tragedy."

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That revolution is exactly what Prenuvo Founder and CEO Andrew Lacy is hoping for. His company is a leading player in the space and looking to combat the "very reactive" nature of our existing health system in which "a lot of horrible diseases like cancer are typically caught really late," he tells KCAL. "We wanted to imagine a different way of doing healthcare. It's not incrementally different, it's transformative." He says that in the past four years, Prenuvo clinics in seven cities have "diagnosed something like 250,000 medical conditions, most of which people didn't know about before they had the scan." (More preventative medicine stories.)

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