Dr. Fuhrman on Total-Body Scans

Do you watch Scrubs? I do—big fan! And for months I’ve been waiting to quote my favorite television character, Dr. Perry Cox. Well guess what newbie? That day has arrived! Here’s what Dr. Cox has to say about full-body scans, “I think showing perfectly healthy people every harmless imperfection in their body just to scare them into taking invasive and often pointless tests is an unholy sin.” As you’ll see, Dr. Fuhrman would agree. From the March 2003 edition of Healthy Times:
The ads read something like this: Visit your local Preventive Health Radiologist Specialists who can add years to your life by offering you a Total-Body CT Scan for only $1,000—an insignificant amount when you consider your valuable health.

If you are a wealthy hypochondriac, a total-body CT scan may be the perfect self-indulgent gift, since it is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only can you go back year after year, but the harmful effects ensure that your illnesses won’t all be in your head.

Radiation exposure
A total body scan gives you about 1500 millirems of radiation, which is about the same as 150 chest x-rays. And that is just the beginning of your cancer-causing over-exposure to radiation. These scans often find some benign polyp or scar tissue in your lung, kidney or liver that will necessitate more radiological studies—at three-month intervals—just to check that there is no further growth. This assures that whatever was found is harmless.

These additional tests—which are recommended to more than 30 percent of patients—rarely find an undiagnosed condition, yet they expose a significant number of people to further unnecessary radiation exposure. Furthermore, inconclusive results create a great deal of anxiety for patients and their families as they wait for the test results.

Keep in mind, almost 90 percent of non-smoking men die of heart attacks, strokes, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. A total body scan is not the most effective method of determining risk or detecting any of these diseases. You do not need a scan to tell you that if you are eating the typical American diet, you are at risk. Traditional methods of detection, such as blood tests and colonoscopies, are more effective at detecting early disease than a total body scan, and they do not expose you to a hefty dose of cancer-promoting radiation. For a non-smoker, exposing your lungs and heart to all this radiation is a foolish “preventive” measure.

Unnecessary added risk
Almost 90 percent of non-smoking women die of heart attacks, strokes, colon cancer, and breast cancer. A total body scan is not the best way to determine risk or detect any of these diseases. It is not a legitimate screening tool for the breast, and the radiation will increase your risk of developing an unusual type of cancer (including breast) down the road. The mammograms most women already get increase their risk of developing radiation-induced breast cancer, so adding another 1500 millirems is a really dumb idea.

My recommendation is to avoid this high-radiation medical intervention and allow your physician to direct any tests you need based on established protocols, medical history, and periodic blood tests.
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OMM - February 8, 2007 8:56 PM

Thank you so much for this one! I think I'll print it out & keep it in my purse when the next doc wants to order a scan for me.
Scrubs rocks & that quote is priceless!

Lynne Eldridge M.D. - March 2, 2007 10:31 PM

Thank you for addressing the total body CT scan! It is an attractive concept even though it has not been shown to pick up any disease at a state that would extend life. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004 was enlightening in this regard. 73 percent of respondents stated they would prefer a total body CT scan over receiving $1000.00 in cash!

For what? Thank you for your quote on the amount of radiation. This dose of radiation, equivalent to 150 chest X-rays as you note, is the same as the amount of radiation one would be exposed to living 2.4 km from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. This translates into the risk of dying from cancer due to the radiation in one total body CT scan being almost one in a thousand.

Rather than lie on the CT scanner, the public should be encouraged to spend there money on things that can make a difference: a good smoking cessation program, a session with a dietician, investing in organically grown produce, or joining a health club.

An exception has been brought up. For those at risk of lung cancer due to smoking etc, a limited spiral CT scan of their chest may well pick up lung cancer at an earlier, treatable stage.

Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time"

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