Whole body Scans May Not Be Worth It
The cost can be much more than an 'ounce of prevention'
Rather than wait for the symptoms of heart disease or cancer to show up,
entrepreneurial doctors now offer specialized medical scanners to detect
tumors or blockages in vessels before they become a medical problem. But the
scans aren't cheap, and insurers often won't cover the cost.
The body scans use a machine called an electron beam computed tomography
scanner. It's faster than a regular CT -- also known as a "CAT scan" -- so
it can even spot irregularities in a beating heart. The procedure can be
done in 15 minutes, prompting some doctors to set up clinics in shopping
malls. Body scanning was pioneered in California, and is now cropping up all
over the country.
But what if you could predict years in advance that you might have a
heart attack or maybe cancer and then take steps to prevent it? This test
claims it can help you do just that but it's not without controversy.
Patty and Bob Small don't like to think about the "what ifs." She recently
had both ovaries removed after a tumor was found on one of them. It was
picked up only when she and her husband decided to have what's called a body
"In fact, I had a gynecology exam 30 days prior to the CAT-scan that was
fine," Patty Young said.
The body scan is essentially an in-depth CAT-scan. Using radiation, it takes
pictures of your heart, lungs and abdominal area.
The idea is to find problems you may not know about -- kidney stones, heart
disease, even cancer.
Body scans are becoming more and more popular, almost trendy. The procedures
typically aren't covered by insurance, but people like Nick Smith are
willing to pay close to $1,000 for it.
"To me it's worth having that cost to find out if there's anything wrong
with me," Smith said.
A doctor looks for calcium, a sign of plaque, in Smith's heart.
"Those are areas that have a tiny amount of calcium in it," said radiologist
Dr. Joe Berkowitz, pointing to white areas on the image.
But overall, Smith's heart and the rest of his body look good.
"I feel great, the results are great," Smith said.
at Denver Imaging said detecting heart disease is the most valuable part of
"I think we're lowering the risk for thousands of people," said Dr.
Berkowitz said the heart scan finds plaque, or indications of heart disease,
earlier than other conventional tests, like treadmills. Then with that
knowledge, patients can take steps to prevent a heart attack such as change
their diet, medication or possibly surgery.
Not everyone thinks the body scan is such a good idea. Critics say it can
lead to a lot of worry and not always accurate results.
I'd like to see some published guidelines by unbiased people without
financial interests involved with body scan to show that it actually
benefits people. There are risks to the scan. It may unnecessarily expose
you to radiation and there's no guarantee what it picks up could in fact be
harmful. I think people should use some discretion and not blindly plop down
Patty Small said she's alive because the scan found what her doctor's
didn't. "I think we really dodged a bullet with this thing," Small said.
She and her husband are getting ready to celebrate 30 years together and are
looking forward to 30 more.
A feature from the San Francisco Chronicle describes several instances
where body scans detected potentially lethal heart problems or cancers in
time to perform life-saving surgery. The paper reports that heart scans cost
about $500. Cough up another $350, and you can see your lungs, too. A
full-body scan runs between $1,000 and $1,500.
Doctors who run the body scan clinics promote their service with startling
testimonials, usually featuring apparently healthy individuals who
discovered a medical time bomb lurking in their bodies. But other doctors
caution that less than 1 percent of healthy people would ever have such
There are some possible added costs. If the procedure picks up questionable
problems (they may be nothing at all), surgery or other invasive procedure
may be required to rule out disease.
A feature from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains the downside to body
scans and why the American College of Radiology says there's no evidence to
justify body scans of healthy people.