Total Body Scan: A Growing Trend

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Total Body Scan or ‘Full-Body Scan’ is a painless, non-invasive diagnostic procedure which uses a computed tomography (CT) to obtain thin, cross-sectional, detailed X-ray images of your body. It can either be a preventive or a proactive step for any health-conscious individual.

Through computed tomography (CT) scans, your whole body or specific areas will be examined, such as your heart and lungs, to potentially identify some existing diseases or abnormalities. Your attending physician will be able to examine the detailed views of your tissues, internal organs, blood vessels, and bones and they will evaluate the results of the scan.

Single-photon emission computed tomography machine in operation, doing a total body bone scan
Ytrottier/Wikimedia Commons

The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes. You will be instructed to lie flat on your back inside a tube-like machine while an imaging device rotates around your body with radiation rays analyzed by a detector. Normally, you will be moved constantly through the rotating beam.

CT scans are often done on an outpatient basis. The results of your scan will not be available right away (it may take a few weeks). A radiologist will interpret the data processed by a computer and he will complete a report and send it to your doctor.

Benefits

The procedure is most beneficial in diagnosing a specific disease or abnormality in symptomatic cases. CT scans may be very helpful in confirming the presence, size, and site of tumors, as well as finding any muscle and bone problems, aneurysms, and other internal injuries.

A full-body scan can also give an early detection report of the amount of calcium in your arteries since arterial calcifications can point out cardiovascular disease. But you can opt for a cheaper CT scan called a heart scan or coronary calcium scan, instead of submitting yourself to a full-body scan to check the level of calcium in your arteries.

Furthermore, first studies propose that a full-body scan may be useful in detecting early-stage lung and colon cancers. Supplementary research is necessary to support these findings.

In most cases, the advantages offset the possible risks because it can present clearer images to your attending physician.

Risks and Controversies

The scan may give out a false positive or false negative result due to different reasons, including technical or procedural errors. Normal findings can imply the likelihood of inaccuracy and false reassurance. For suspicious findings, follow-up and more tests may be needed. Regardless of the results, there is no scientific evidence to verify that a total body scan can recognize diseases (particularly those with no accompanying signs and symptoms) early enough for patients to be given prompt and proper medical management and treatments. Consequently, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the whole-body CT scanning as a major screening technique.

CT scans are generally safe but they involve more radiation exposures than other imaging procedures. The amount of radiation exposure differs among the types of scans. Studies show that a radiation dose equivalent to or over 100 rem (100,000 mrem) can cause permanent harm to cells.

A full-body scan generally does not require a contrast dye injected in the body. This makes it less reliable as contrast dye can detect abnormalities and distinguish a cancerous growth from a benign one with less difficulty.

CT scans are not advisable for pregnant women since X-rays can be harmful to the baby. Children must also avoid being exposed to radiation unless their condition outweighs the risks.

This diagnostic tool is not dependable in detecting breast or cervical cancer compared to other traditional screening methods.

The scans cost around $250 to $750 per scan and are normally not covered by insurance. Any supposed advantages of total body CT screening are still unconvincing.  The worth of such benefit may not be enough to compensate for the potential harms of the procedure. Public health agencies and national medical societies in the United States, including the American College of Radiology, the American College of Cardiology, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and the American Heart Association do not recommend this screening tool.

Getting Your Total Body Scan

Although any healthy person can take advantage of the total body scan (with contraindications), it is recommended to consult your doctor first. They will suggest a total body scan if deemed necessary. Set an appointment with the hospital or clinic for your scheduled screening and pay the required fees. The following websites offer full-body CT scan.

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