Frequently I’m asked if “I should get my whole body scanned”

flickr.com/ photos/ donmeliton/ 2441292625

flickr.com/ photos/ donmeliton/ 2441292625

Sigh. . . the marketers do a very good job. They market for self-referral.  “The price is coming down. . . “ “Wouldn’t everyone like to know. . .? “  But, there are significant risks and I imagine it would be the rare person that would be relieved after a whole body scan.  In fact 80% of older patients will find at least one abnormality with the mean being three findings per patient.

Here are the risks:

  • Detection of “incidentalomas” which is what we call insignificant things in the body–found incidentally, but now we need to decide if we should biopsy or remove.
  • High false-negative rate (the scan misses something important)
  • High false-positive rate (for example, we find old scar tissue which looks like something concerning)
  • Increased rate of overdiagnosis
  • Overexposure to radiation (500-1000 times higher than routine chest x ray)
  • Physical damage caused by objects moving in soft tissue during magnetic imaging
  • Unnecessary examinations or biopsies
  • Unnecessary exposure to intravenous contrast (like barium)
  • Unnecessary patient anxiety (and who can blame you. . . you now know about physical conditions that may never affect you. . . or they might)

Here are some organizations recommending against whole body scanning

  • American Heart Association
  • American College of Radiology
  • American association of Physicists in Medicine
  • Health Physics Society
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Consider what information you’ll know that you can’t ever NOT know.

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About drlesliegreenberg

I have been practicing as a family physician for over 20 years--as both an educator of physicians and clinician. From infancy to the elderly, I perform obstetrics and general medicine. I love my career and am passionate about my field of knowledge and my patients. Follow me on Facebook at Leslie Md Greenberg Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.
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