Celebrities Are Getting Full Body MRIs — Should You?

Head-to-toe MRIs are gaining popularity among celebrities as a tool to detect cancer and other conditions early, but they may not be the right choice for everyone.

The latest celebrity trend isn’t a must-have designer dress or a new fad diet — it’s a medical test, specifically a full-body MRI. Influencers like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Oprah, and Amanda Kloots have all touted the health benefits of scanning the body head to toe with magnetic resonance imaging machines, but is it something the average person should consider?

What is a full-body MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a technology that uses magnets to take pictures of the inside of the body. It’s non-invasive and does not emit the radiation found in X-ray or CT imaging. However, it produces a powerful magnetic field, which can negatively interact with medical or other implants.

MRIs can help diagnose a wide range of conditions in the brain, organs, muscles, and skeletal system.

Usually, a doctor only orders an MRI if a person has concerning symptoms. And the MRI they choose may only examine one area of the body. For example, a person with chronic knee pain may undergo an MRI of the knee, or an individual with neurological symptoms may have an MRI of the brain.

In contrast, a full-body MRI scans the entire body head to toe and can identify over 500 common and rare conditions. These include cancer, aneurysm, and heart abnormalities. The theory is that if these conditions are identified before symptoms emerge, healthcare providers can treat them more effectively.

The drawbacks of whole-body MRIs

Although scanning the entire body can catch diseases and conditions in their earliest stages, there are several drawbacks to consider before signing on to this celebrity medical trend.

For example, when used in healthy people with no symptoms, a full body scan could detect clinically irrelevant findings, which may lead to invasive and unnecessary tests. In addition, whole-body MRI techniques aren’t standardized, meaning the quality and results may differ depending on location.

And MRIs don't come cheap. They can cost from $1,000 for a torso scan to $2,500 for a full body scan, and insurance typically won’t cover it unless there’s a medical reason.

Moreover, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that individuals not use whole-body MRIs to scan for early cancer detection. The organization says that the likelihood of finding a tumor early is less than 2% in healthy individuals.

In addition, "whole-body scanning has a risk of false-positive findings that can result in unnecessary testing and procedures with additional risks, including considerable exposure to radiation with positron emission tomography and CT, a very small increase in the possibility of developing cancer later in life, and accruing additional medical costs as a result of these procedures," the AAFP says.

The bottom line

Although these head-to-toe MRIs can help detect cancer and other conditions at an early stage, experts generally don’t recommend them for healthy individuals.

Still, like any medical procedure or treatment, a person should consider weighing the risks versus benefits of a full-body MRI with their healthcare provider and make an informed decision based on their needs.

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