Important Health Topics
Full-Body CT Scans
What You Need to Know
a technology that "takes a look" at people's insides
and promises early warnings of cancer, cardiac disease, and
other abnormalities, clinics and medical imaging facilities
nationwide are touting a new service for health-conscious
people: "Whole-body CT screening." This typically
involves scanning the body from the chin to below the hips
with a form of X-ray imaging that produces cross-sectional
The technology used
is called "X-ray computed tomography" (CT), sometimes
referred to as "computerized axial tomography" (CAT).
A number of different types of X-ray CT systems are being promoted
for various types of screening. For example, "multi-slice"
CT (MSCT) and "electron beam" CT (EBCT) - also called
"electron beam tomography" (EBT) - are X-ray CT systems
that produce images rapidly and are often promoted for screening
the buildup of calcium in arteries of the heart.
and EBCT all use X-rays to produce images representing "slices"
of the body - like the slices of a loaf of bread. Each image slice
corresponds to a wafer-thin section which can be viewed to reveal
body structures in great detail.
recognized as an invaluable medical tool for the diagnosis of
disease, trauma, or abnormality in patients with signs or symptoms
of disease. It's also used for planning, guiding, and monitoring
therapy. What's new is that CT is being marketed as a preventive
or proactive health care measure to healthy individuals who have
no symptoms of disease.
Proven Benefits for Healthy People
preventive action, finding unsuspected disease, uncovering problems
while they are treatableÑ these all sound great, almost
too good to be true! In fact, at this time the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) knows of no scientific evidence demonstrating that whole-body
scanning of individuals without symptoms provides more benefit
than harm to people being screened. The FDA is responsible for
assuring the safety and effectiveness of such medical devices,
and it prohibits manufacturers of CT systems to promote their
use for whole-body screening of asymptomatic people. The FDA,
however, does not regulate practitioners and they may choose to
use a device for any use they deem appropriate.
to most other diagnostic X-ray procedures, CT scans result
in relatively high radiation exposure. The risks associated
with such exposure are greatly outweighed by the benefits
of diagnostic and therapeutic CT. However, for whole-body
CT screening of asymptomatic people, the benefits are questionable:
- Can it effectively
differentiate between healthy people and those who have a hidden
- Do suspicious findings
lead to additional invasive testing or treatments that produce
additional risk with little benefit?
- Does a "normal"
finding guarantee good health?
to consider if you are thinking of having a whole-body screening:
people don't realize that getting a whole body CT screening
exam won't necessarily give them the "peace of mind"
they are hoping for, or the information that would allow them
to prevent a health problem. An abnormal finding, for example,
may not be a serious one, and a normal finding may be inaccurate.
CT scans, like other medical procedures, will miss some conditions,
and "false" leads can prompt further, unnecessary
- CT screening has
not been demonstrated to meet generally accepted criteria for
an effective screening procedure.
- Medical professional
societies have not endorsed CT scanning for individuals without
- CT screening of
high-risk individuals for specific diseases such as lung cancer
or colon cancer is currently being studied, but results are
not yet available.
- The radiation from
a CT scan may be associated with a very small increase in the
possibility of developing cancer later in a person's life.
Before having a CT
screening procedure, carefully investigate and consider the potential
risks and benefits and discuss them with your physician.
No: (FDA) 03-0001