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Full Body Scans

One of the newer tests that the insurance industry is dealing with is the total body scan. Just about anyone driving home from work will hear at least one radio commercial on body scanning, whether it be just for the heart or for the entire body. The idea of picking up abnormalities and potentially life threatening conditions before they cause the body irreparable harm is appealing. So should everyone have one of these scans, and should life insurance include one in all its requirements?

Body scans are not inexpensive. While the procedure can be done in less than an hour start to finish, the cost averages well over $ 1,000. It is generally not covered by insurance, so the cost is out of pocket to the individual. The tests may just begin a string of confirmatory or diagnostic testing for questionable findings, so the expenses may just be starting from that point.

A body scan involves significant radiation exposure. While each machine is different and each operator may spend less or more time in performing the test, the radiation received from one body scan alone is equal to almost the same amount as from 150 chest X-Rays. There is really no official standard on how the slices of pictures taken should be, and how thick or thin they are, but the radiation absorbed from even a single procedure is quite significant.

Scans can pick up even minute findings that have no clinical significance. When anything abnormal is found, it sparks a round of confirmatory testing that can include more X-Rays, scans, blood testing and even biopsy. Even in cases where doctors are convinced that there is little chance of pathological significance, a failure to confirm or deny anything can open the doctor up to possible legal consequence. As such, it is hard to ever determine whether follow-up testing is the most practical alternative, and most people will end up going through it regardless of perceived or actual risk.

Another problem arrives when a full body scan may not turn up a noticeable abnormality. What happens when an individual then gets symptoms? He or she may be less likely to take these symptoms seriously or go to a doctor to have them investigated because of the assumption that the "normal" body scan shows that nothing is seriously wrong.

Scans are useful in diagnosing very significant disease early, such as cardiac calcification in an at-risk person with risk factors. However, traditional, less invasive and less expensive testing such as treadmill and exercise echo testing may be just as useful and easier to follow-up.

The picture of people being able to go to a doctor's office, be run through a machine and know what their total body health and status is on a periodic basis may one day come true. At the moment, full body scanning is not filling that bill. Neither the American College of Radiology nor the FDA endorse full body scanning. As such, insurance underwriting will have to consider such scans in the same context it does every bit of medical information it receives - as just another piece of the puzzle in trying to assess the health of an individual applicant.

Authored by Dr. Bob Goldstone, M.D.

The information contained on this page is not intended to provide medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.