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What is a Body Scan?

Article Details
  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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A body scan is a medical screening which provides an image of the body’s interior. It is performed to screen for indications of conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Many people believe that a body scan can allow for early intervention in conditions that may become increasingly difficult to treat as they progress. Due to its potential drawbacks, which may include uncertain results, high costs, exposure to radiation, and the creation of anxiety, many medical experts question the scan’s usefulness.

During a body scan, a computerized tomography (CT) imaging device scans segments of the body. These scans are then assembled to create a complete image of the body’s interior. This complete image is studied for abnormalities which might indicate health conditions such as heart disease or cancer.

Theoretically, a body scan allows for the detection of growths, also known as malignancies, which may indicate health conditions that have not yet started to present symptoms. Often, a disease becomes more difficult to treat as it progresses. For instance, cancer of the stomach can often be quite advanced, and therefore hard to successfully treat, by the time the sufferer begins to notice any symptoms. A scan can allow for medical intervention while a condition is still in its early stages and is therefore still relatively easily to treat.

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The potential drawbacks of a body scan have led many medical experts to question its true usefulness. First of all, while the image provided by the test may show growths within the body, frequently that image is not detailed enough to allow for diagnosis of those growths. Further tests are often needed to determine whether the growth visible in the image is actually related to a medical condition.

Additionally, many insurance policies do not cover body scans. Therefore, the individual being tested often must pay out-of-pocket for a scan, which can be quite expensive. In the US, for instance, scan prices typically start around $500 US Dollars (USD), with many scanning facilities charging $1,000 USD or more.

Further, as with all CT imaging tests, body scans expose the individual being tested to low amounts of radiation. When the existence of a medical condition has already been confirmed, CT scans can be a valuable tool in monitoring the success of a treatment. If there has been no suggestion that a medical condition is present, however, the risks of radiation exposure may outweigh the potential benefits of a scan.

Finally, while a body scan which shows no malignancies may prove a source of relief for the tested individual, one which does indicate a malignancy can cause extreme anxiety. Further testing frequently reveals that the malignancy detected in the scan is benign, essentially meaning that the tested individual has been subjected to a period of stress and worry without good cause. Therefore, many health experts believe that only those with a personal or family history of serious disease should have a scan.

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