Should You Get a Full Body MRI? Celebrities Say Yes, but Science Says Otherwise

Apr 25, 2024 - Research

Dr. Samir Gupta on The Feed with Dr. G shares the risks and harms of full body MRI scans.

Should You Get a Full Body MRI? Celebrities Say Yes, but Science Says Otherwise

Apr 25, 2024 - Research

Dr. Samir Gupta on The Feed with Dr. G shares the risks and harms of full body MRI scans.

On the surface, the idea of a full body MRI seems appealing— a comprehensive scan to catch potential health issues early on. However, as Dr. Samir Gupta shares in his recent The Feed with Dr. G video, there are important risks and harms to understand before opting in for this test.

Full body MRI scans promise early detection of hundreds of cancers and diseases, suggesting a potential lifesaving impact by catching conditions before they progress. However, unlike proven screenings such as pap smears or colonoscopies, full body MRIs have not been shown to be beneficial. Importantly, screening tests like pap smears and colonoscopies have undergone extensive study and are recommended in individuals who are at risk. In contrast, many other screening tests, including whole-body MRI, have not been s hown to have the same lifesaving benefits.

One significant problem is that MRI scans routinely detect minor abnormalities – like an anatomic variant or a scar – that usually don’t represent a health issue. Unfortunately, incidental findings like this (“false positives”) often trigger a cascade of further testing and potentially unnecessary treatments.

In fact, Dr. Gupta highlights a recent systematic review that found 95% of people who underwent full body MRIs had some sort of abnormal finding, though the vast majority were harmless. While most of these findings turn out to be benign, the process of investigation and follow-up tests can cause unwanted stress, anxiety, time away from home, and can lead to complications from biopsies and procedures.

As a result of this possible harm, credible health care organizations have advised against this practice. The American College of Preventive Medicine, which has developed Choosing Wisely recommendations in the United States, recommends against the whole-body scans for early tumor detection in asymptomatic patients.

So, why are full body scans gaining traction? Dr. Gupta attributes this trend, in part, to the endorsement of celebrities like Kim Kardashian. In fact, the trend of whole-body screening isn’t new, with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and William Shatner previously endorsing whole body CAT scans (which have also been shown to be ineffective).

Although full body MRI scans are not yet widely accessible in Canada, these celebrity endorsements generate interest in potentially harmful health trends such as this one, and private companies are popping up to offer the service for a cost.

So, while the idea of a full body MRI screening test may seem appealing, the science tells us that on average, it causes far more harm than good. Instead, Dr. Gupta shares the importance of a healthy lifestyle and engaging in discussions with your health care provider to determine which screening tests and preventive measures align best with your individual health needs.