The scan had detected a 1.5-inch mass on her pancreas after CT scans and other testing couldn’t find a problem. A biopsy confirmed the mass was a stage II pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. In February, she had surgery to remove the cancer, part of her pancreas, her spleen, and 17 lymph nodes.
“I need people to know there are places they can go to catch things early,” Menounos, 44, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2017 and type 1 diabetes last summer, told People. “You can’t let fear get in the way. I had that moment where I thought I was a goner – but I’m OK because I caught this early enough.”
Now, Menounos’s mission is to convince insurance companies to cover whole-body MRI scans for everyone. But medical organizations, as well as experts in oncology, radiology, and health psychology, say the evidence does not yet prove these imaging procedures can give people the peace of mind they want or the information they need to prevent health issues.
MRI Scan typically focus on one organ or area of the body and require referrals from qualified medical professionals. But now, private companies, per your request and for a hefty price, will scan your entire body, even if you don’t have symptoms or concerns.
Whole-body scans use powerful magnets and radio waves to produce 3D images of your organs, tissues, and skeletal system without the use of radiation. Companies like Prenuvo, VitalScan, and simonONE say their scans – which cost from about $500 to $2,500 – can detect hundreds of medical conditions, including early-stage cancers.
The likelihood a whole-body MRI Scan finds a serious condition that’s treatable is far lower than your risk of dying in a car accident (1 in 93 people over their lifetime, according to the National Safety Council), drowning while swimming (1 in 1,006 people), or being seriously injured from falling down stairs (37.8 per 10,000 people in the United States), Hess said. Plus, the issues these scans often discover tend to be on the “spectrum of normal” that typically do not require treatment, such as small brain aneurysms.
Additional testing with CT scans and positron emission tomography (PET) can also expose people to radiation that may raise their risk of cancer later in life, the American Academy of Family Physicians said in a statement that discouraged the use of whole-body scans for early cancer detection in people who don’t have symptoms. Some procedures could cause complications as well, Hess said. For example, a biopsy of a small kidney lesion, which normally wouldn’t need testing, could cause internal bleeding.
Experts agree that Menounos’s case is a rare exception to the rule. Although CT scans and other testing appeared normal, she kept having severe belly pain and diarrhea. The extra imaging she sought “was certainly logical and as it turns out necessary,” Dahut said, although an MRI of just her belly would have sufficed. Still, early-stage pancreatic cancers can often be difficult to find on routine scans.
Whole-body MRI can be helpful and even preferred in certain circumstances, Imaoka said. People who have Li-Fraumeni syndrome – a rare genetic disorder that makes people more likely to have many different cancers – may benefit from the scans because their entire bodies are threatened by disease. These scans are also helpful in detecting multiple myeloma, but not so much for the early detection of colon, skin, breast, thyroid, lung, and most other cancers, Hess said.
Blood-based tests may be a more useful cancer screening tool for the average person, Hess and Dahut said, because they’re easier to perform than MRIs. Several have already been approved by the FDA, although most are used along with other screening procedures like mammograms and colonoscopies.
“It doesn’t fix the root of the problem. In therapy, you work to build a greater tolerance for uncertainty, get more comfortable with the unknown and potentially unpleasant, while gaining confidence in your ability to handle anything, even a serious illness,” she said. “Fear stems not from the feared thing itself, although it can certainly be upsetting from the fear of not knowing or the uncertainty and unpredictability of it.”