Whole Body Scans: Worth The Effort?

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 6:56am

Studies find few benefits in preventative whole body cancer scans.

We're always told health screenings are the best ways to catch cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage, but is there really any advantage to getting whole body scans?

"The purpose is to try to detect abnormalities on the scan at a time when they're still very small and still treatable," said Dr. David Gierada, a radiologist at the Siteman Cancer Center

The goal is to try to find abnormalities before they produce symptoms.

Whole body CT scans were hugely popular five to ten years ago.

The idea was to scan healthy patients, looking for cancer in places it can be hard to find.

"Primarily the chest, and the abdomen, and the pelvis, which is included in these types of scans," said Dr. Gierada.

There's no indication that this type of whole body screening in healthy people can find tumors at a time when they're still treatable.

"One of the biggest problems of doing these kinds of scans is that there are many abnormalities or possible abnormalities that are identified so called false positive results of the scan," said Dr. Gierada.

And for patients, that can mean anxiety, more testing, more time and more expense looking for something that may not be cancer at all.

Neither the American Cancer Society nor the Food and Drug Administration recommend these.

"Overwhelmingly the vast majority of those abnormalities are benign or abnormalities that are not going to cause a problem to a person in their lifetime," said Dr. Gierada.

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