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Don't Get Taken By Full Body Scans

Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition Specialist, Cass County Extension Center, University of Missouri Extension

A soccer player claims that a full body CT (computed tomography) scan found a heart condition, another ad claims that a woman found out she had a uterine tumor - a tumor that her doctor and mammogram had failed to find. If you've listened to a radio station or read the Kansas City Star in the last few months, then you've surely heard that a full-body CT scan offers peace of mind. These scans obtain cross-sectional images of the heart, lungs, liver and other organs, as well as soft tissues, bones, and blood vessels. This technology is already widely used for diagnosing specific problems, but using this test for the "worried well" has become a medical industry explosion! The test typically costs $1000 plus and most insurance won't pay for it. But if you can afford it, isn't it a good investment?

The Radiological Society of North America and the American College of Radiology, organizations of professionals most likely to benefit financially from full body scans, DO NOT recommend them. Nor do the American Cancer Society or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Why? While CT scans are useful in diagnosis of specific illnesses when there are symptoms or reasons for testing, the pictures in a full-body scan are usually not as high in quality or resolution as those ordered for a specific reason.

Peace of mind isn't a likely outcome of a full body scan. Such scans certainly cannot detect high blood pressure or diabetes, which are the most important risk factors for heart disease and stroke. These scans can't screen for the most two common cancers: breast and prostate. These scans most often uncover harmless abnormalities. The only way to find out if the abnormality is cancer is via a possibly painful and expensive biopsy. Or maybe you'll be told to wait and come back for more scanning in a few months. On the other hand, a scan that finds nothing suspicious can give you a false sense of security.

One other issue that raises concern is the amount of radiation for the X-ray scans. Perhaps the radiation from one full body scan won't harm you, but when the benefits are so uncertain, why risk it?

All of us in the health world are supporters of taking a preventive, proactive approach to health - but proactivity, when it comes to this test, means saying no! Regular exercise, regular check-ups, and good eating habits are a better, cheaper way to ensure peace of mind than a scan.







Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009



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