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A whole-body scan actually may cause what you hope to catch early December 10, 2007

Posted by Dreamhealer in Research.
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Q. I am a 55-year-old male and I want to stay on top of my health. I’ve heard a lot about whole-body CT scans. I can afford to get one; do you think it is worth my while?

A: Whole-body CT scans are X-ray scans of the entire body. They provide a fairly detailed cross-sectional picture through the body and can detect internal features such as soft tissue, bone and blood vessels.

CT scans are very good radiological procedures for examining the pelvis, abdomen, chest, brain and spine. They are used to detect the size and location of tumors, and to evaluate abscesses, inflammation, abdominal aneurysms, kidney stones and other medical problems.

Many people get whole-body CT scans with the intention of detecting things like cancer and heart disease early and thus prolonging their lives.

But you will probably harm yourself more than help yourself by getting these procedures. Why? Whole-body CT scanning gives patients a radiation dose of 4 milliseverts to 24 milliseverts per scan. This compares to only .04 milliseverts of radiation from a chest X-ray. This excessive radiation exposure by whole-body CTs has been estimated to increase the possibility of cancer by 1 in every 2,000 people. Thus, whole-body CT scans may actually promote the disease most people are trying to avoid.

Whole-body CT scans may also produce “false positive” results. Around 80 percent of abnormalities found in whole-body CT scans are harmless findings but lead to expensive and sometimes invasive work-ups. Another drawback is that a normal whole-body CT may give a false sense of reassurance to individuals who may then forego lifestyle measures needed to ensure good health, or hold off on recommended health screenings that might detect a disease not detectable by a CT scan.

What is the official government stance on whole-body CT scans?

The federal Food and Drug Administration states “At this time the FDA knows of no data demonstrating that whole-body CT screening is effective in detecting any particular disease early enough for the disease to be managed, treated, or cured and advantageously spare a person at least some of the detriment associated with illness or premature death”.

So to stay on top of your health, we recommend eating right, exercising regularly, not drinking excessively, not smoking, and getting your recommended yearly screenings.

For a man your age, this would include a colonoscopy or lower GI screening, an annual or biannual physical exam, a prostate check, and some lab work.

You may want to hold off on the whole-body CT.

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