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Beyond Full-Body MRI Scans: Other Cancer Screening Options

Read Time: 2 minutes

MRI machine

Do you need a full-body MRI scan to check for cancer? 

For most people, the answer is no.

The goal of screening is to help you live longer and better by detecting cancer earlier, when it’s more treatable, explains Manni Mohyuddin, MBBS, an investigator and multiple myeloma specialist at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Who might benefit from a full-body scan?

Doctors emphasize the importance of using evidence-based imaging for cancer screening. Full-body scans aren't routinely recommended, but they can be beneficial for certain high-risk individuals.

In his clinic, Luke Maese, DO, a pediatric oncologist at Primary Children’s Hospital and Huntsman Cancer Institute, sees people with an increased risk of cancer because of genetic changes or family history. For those with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic condition that increases the risk of developing multiple cancers, whole-body MRIs are one of the safest ways to check for new tumors.

Other inherited mutations increase the risk of cancer in specific parts of the body. In those cases, Maese recommends focused imaging instead of a full-body scan.

For people with multiple myeloma, cancer that affects the bone marrow, a whole-body MRI can catch problems early. Still, not everyone with myeloma needs one, says Mohyuddin. He recommends full-body imaging only when the results might affect a patient’s treatment or care.

What are the risks of full-body scans?

While MRIs don't use radiation like CT or PET scans, they come with other considerations. Full-body scans may lead to unnecessary additional tests such as biopsies or ultrasounds to clarify unclear results. These extra procedures can have their own risks and can cause anxiety.

The high cost of full-body MRIs, potentially not covered by insurance, can also be a burden for some people. Additionally, these scans can be lengthy, sometimes lasting up to three hours. 

It's important to remember that full-body MRIs aren't a replacement for established screening methods like mammograms or colonoscopies. Talk to your doctor about which tests are most appropriate for your individual situation.

Are there other ways to reduce my cancer risk?

In addition to staying up-to-date on recommended screening guidelines, you can lower your chance of getting cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices, like avoiding tobacco, staying active, and eating a healthy diet. Getting vaccinated against HPV can also help prevent certain cancers and practicing sun safety is crucial. You can also protect yourself and your family by testing your home for radon.

While some risk factors like genetics are out of your control, there are still steps you can take. If you have a family history of cancer, consider talking to a healthcare professional about genetic testing or visiting the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic at Huntsman Cancer Institute. They can help you assess your risk and develop a personalized plan for prevention or early detection.

Cancer touches all of us.