According to the hashtag—#notanad—Kim Kardashian was not paid to endorse Prenuvo, a new full-body scan company, which she said “has the ability to detect cancer and diseases such as aneurysms in its earliest stages, before symptoms arise” in an Instagram post. “It was like getting a MRI for an hour with no radiation,” she wrote. “It has really saved some of my friends lives and I just wanted to share.”
Kardashian’s post revealed an ongoing debate on full-body scans to the broader population. You might wonder—if you can afford a peek under the hood, why not? The cost, for starters: A whole body scan, according to Prenuvo’s site, costs $2,499.
But Kardashian isn’t the only one excited about the technology. On July 3, CNET called full-body scans the potential future of preventative medicine. Such companies included include Prenuvo, which raised $70 million in its Series A round last year, and Ezra, which aims to eventually have a 15-minute full-body scan available for $500. (It’s currently $1,350 for a 30-minute scan.)
The medical establishment is less enthused. As the CNET writer’s doctor told her, if full-body scans were a good idea, “doctors would be recommending them to all of their patients who could afford to get one.” The general consensus in the medical community, he said, is that the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
In April, the American College of Radiology released a statement saying “there is no documented evidence that total body screening is cost-efficient or effective in prolonging life,” and expressed concerns that findings from these scans will result in “unnecessary follow-up testing and procedures, as well as significant expense.”
Almost 20 years ago, there was a boom and bust of body-scanning clinics, as The New York Times covered in 2005. It was a “a sort of medical gold rush,” boosted by direct-to-consumer advertising that got thousands to cough up out-of-pocket payments—sometimes more than $1,000—at hundreds of scanning facilities across the country.
HealthView, one of the early-aughts scanning centers, made appearances on Oprah, Good Morning America, and Today, and featured celebrity endorsements from Whoopi Goldberg and William Shatner. Its advertising included concise dread-inducing lines like “What you don’t know might be killing you.”
At that time, full-body scans delivered an amount of radiation that could be 200 times the amount of a chest-X-ray. Increased radiation exposure increases cancer risk, so if you look for cancer enough with a full-body scan, you may very find what you’re looking for.
Unlike the early-aughts full-body scans, Prenuvo scans are done with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, which do not produce radiation.
For certain high-risk patients, a preventative full-body scan might make sense. A 2021 study published in the European Journal of Radiology found that a whole body MRI “yields numerous important findings that trigger therapeutic interventions in a large sample of asymptomatic adults.” The caveat: the same MRIs “might be inadequate for detecting malignancies such as colon, thyroid, and breast cancers; thus, it may serve as a complementary screening method for health-conscious individuals.”
The bigger problem for the average healthy person is overtreatment. Medical procedures have costs, and many people have small lumps in their body that will never cause them a problem, but will cause concern if found in a scan. This can lead to unnecessary procedures. It’s a similar problem to the debates around prostate screenings.
A preemptive body scan on an otherwise healthy person might make them aware of things they’d be better off not knowing about, in other words.