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Full-body scan

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Subject: Medical imaging, Edward J. Hoffman
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Full-body scan

For full-body scanners found in airport-security, see Full body scanner.

A full-body scan is a scan of the patient's entire body as part of the diagnosis or treatment of illnesses. If computed tomography (CAT) scan technology is used, it is known as a full-body CT scan, though many medical imaging technologies can perform full-body scans.

Use in preventive screening

A full-body scan has the potential to identify disease (e.g. cancer) in early stages, and early identification can improve the success of curative efforts. Controversy arises from the use of full-body scans in the screening of patients who have no signs or symptoms suggestive of a disease.[1] As with any test that screens for disease, the risks of full-body CT scans need to be weighed against the benefit of identifying a treatable disease at an early stage.[2]


Health risks

  • Compared to most other diagnostic imaging procedures, CT scans result in relatively high radiation exposure. This exposure may be associated with a very small increase in cancer risk. The question is whether that risk is outweighed by the benefits of diagnosis and therapy[3]

Diagnosis benefits

  • Allows a transparent view of the body. Many possible malignancies are discovered with a full-body scan, but these are almost always benign.[4][5] These may not be related to any disease, and may be benign growths, scar tissue, or the remnants of previous infections. CT scanning for other reasons sometimes identifies these "incidentalomas".


These procedures are relatively expensive. Possibly high cost: At a cost of US$600 to $3000, full-body scans are expensive, and are rarely covered by insurance.[6][7] However, in December 2007, the IRS stated that full-body scans qualify as deductible medical expenses, without a doctor's referral. This will likely lead employer-sponsored, flexible-spending plans to make the cost of the scans eligible for reimbursement.[8]

False positives

  • Low rate of finding disease.[4][5]
  • Confusion regarding "incidentalomas" (see above): It is uncertain how to treat some of them, or if treatment is even necessary.[9]
  • May not be able to detect colors, unlike for example a colonoscopy.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are associated without a radiation risk compared to CT scans, and are being evaluated for their use in screening.[10]

In popular culture

  • In the episode "Role Model" of the TV show House the lead character Dr. Gregory House refers to full-body scans as "useless" because, in his words, "you could probably scan every one of us and find fifty doo-dads that look like cancer". This issue was revisited in a later episode, "The Social Contract", where a full-body scan was successfully used to identify a tumor and diagnose Doege-Potter syndrome. Then in "Black Hole", House orders a full-body scan over the objections of his team, followed by a different scan on a pineal gland.

See also


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