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May 2002 Issue
The Full-Body CT Scan Dilemma
by Michael Fick
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On the other hand, medical science dismissed mammograms years ago, too, as too informative and too misleading to be of practical use. Oops!

The only apparent supporters of asymptomatic full-body scans are commercial scan clinics plus some hospitals that sell them. (At least the hospitals may be able to provide qualified analyses of the scans.)

Yes, random scans have found some very sick people, some who were cured. Those comprised well below 1% of customers in some studies, and many of their problems were easily detectable by routine exams. A wide variety and majority of scan-revealed "imperfections" are exactly that: imperfections. It's been recognized for many years that spinal scans, for example, reveal a variety of alarming disc imperfections that patients can't feel and surgery can make worse.

One scan purveyor asks. "If you ensure the appropriate choice of low- or no-radiation scans, thereby providing a test that is both accurate and safe, why wouldn't one screen patients at a time in their lives when disease is likely to rear its ugly head?" Besides false negatives, the answer includes the facts that good reports can create a false sense of security, tempting people to forgo an annual physical exam even though a comprehensive health assessment also addresses things scans can't see, such as cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunizations and lifestyle issues.

Most commercial appeals for full-body scans are emotional sales pitches, such as, "Thirty minutes can save your life" Yet most scan findings are just the results of normal aging and the startling fact that ... we are not perfect. Revelation: Just because it was "seen on Oprah" doesn't make it sound science.

My own, unofficial, unscientific, layman's whole body scan decision criteria, based on what I've read so far, is that I will get a whole body scan only if and when I:

  1. Acquire a family history, symptoms, or exam findings implicating some full-body disease detectable only by full body CT scan,
  2. Get the scan under the direction and oversight of a specialized clinician who recommends it for specific reasons and is qualified to interpret the results,
  3. Have the spare time and pragmatic outlook to eliminate scan implications systematically, through further exams, without excessive worry.
  4. Continue to read incessantly about my health and learn to make my own logical appraisal of scan findings determined and assessed by qualified physicians,
  5. Find new population studies - not yet existent -- which prove full scans do more good than harm overall, and
  6. Start smoking and eating lots of sat fat and keep it up for 20 years.

However, I do plan to research and ask my doctor about an electron beam CT (EBCT) heart scan because I have three strikes: I'm 58 and male and have always had genetically induced, marginally high cholesterol.

After reading about scans on a variety of reliable, mainstream, alphabet soup sites, I picked a body scan peddler website at random, and found the following. This was neither scientific nor statistically valid, but if the first random click finds a site this scary, what would a thorough search produce? Not only was this site rife with misspellings, but after it spent a page mumbling about our inner wisdom, intuition, emotional traumas, layers of accumulated imbalances, and other metaphysical esoterica, it ended with this gem:

    "Scans can be completed either in person or long distance. You need not be present for the full body scan. So if you are out of state, your wisdom is accessed via scanning with the use of a pendulum. A 20 minute phone consultation is conducted beforehand to discuss any health concerns and issues you feel would be beneficial for me to know about."

They're out there, friends ... in every sense of the phrase. Put on your hip boots and tread lightly.

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