Are full-body MRI scans necessary?
Medical diagnostic imaging start-ups promising to detect early-stage cancer and cardiovascular conditions in healthy people, without a doctor’s order, are popping up across the country.
But before you become too excited about these chin-to-thigh MRIs, you may want to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Choosing Wisely in Preventive Medicine Program are not yet ready to endorse full-body MRI scans as an effective screening procedure. And medical societies like the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) are not yet recommending the scans either.
“It’s too early to tell whether full-body MRI scans are safe for everyone and whether these scans can consistently produce accurate results,” says Dr. Prentiss Taylor, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago and an ACPM fellow.
Full-body MRI scans use much of the same technology available under a doctor’s care. However, to make the service cost-effective, the scans are typically generated and evaluated by artificial intelligence (AI).
“AI-supported screening technology is still in its infancy, and the risk of misdiagnosis is not well understood yet,” Dr. Taylor says.
For example, Dr. Taylor explains that researchers have pointed out that full-body MRI scans have a high rate of finding benign abnormalities, but a lower rate of finding malignancies. Also, there is a risk of over-testing healthy patients, exposing them to invasive biopsies and significant unneeded costs with little benefit.
“At this point in time, the best way to understand your risk for cancer and other health issues is to see a physician. Your primary care physician can help you schedule preventive diagnostic screenings for cancer, heart conditions and other chronic health issues using some of the same advanced technology being explored with full-body MRI scans,” Dr. Taylor says.
When and if the medical community fully endorses the technology, Dr. Taylor warns that full-body MRI scans cannot and should not replace a doctor’s care. Doctors will still need to review scan results, discuss results with patients and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Doctors offer qualities that AI technology simply cannot.
“Good patient care combines diagnostic tests, experience with human-to-human interaction and empathy,” Dr. Taylor says.
Meanwhile, there is a place for certain health scans. Dr. Taylor recommends coronary calcium scans, low-dose CT lung scans for selected smokers, and mammograms, following evidence-based guidelines and guidance by a physician or primary care clinician.
Are you interested in learning more about your health risks? Click here to take a heart disease risk assessment, a lung cancer risk assessment or here for a breast cancer risk assessment. If you are on the search for a doctor, click here to find one in Illinois or Wisconsin.
About the Author
Cassie Richardson, health enews contributor, is regional coordinator on the Public Affairs team for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has more than 10 years of experience in health care communications, marketing, media and public relations. Cassie is a fan of musical theater and movies. When she’s not spreading the word about health and wellness advancements, she enjoys writing fiction.