Choosing Wisely:

Don’t use whole-body scans for early tumor detection in asymptomatic patients.

Rationale and Comments: Whole-body scanning with a variety of techniques (magnetic resonance imaging, single-photon emission computed tomography, positron emission tomography, CT) is marketed by some to screen for a wide range of undiagnosed cancers. However, there are no data suggesting that these imaging studies will improve survival or improve the likelihood of finding a tumor (estimated tumor detection is less than 2% in asymptomatic patients screened). 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. Whole-body scanning is not recommended by medical professional societies for individuals without symptoms, nor is it a routinely practiced screening procedure in healthy populations.
Sponsoring Organizations:
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • Sources:
  • Expert consensus
  • Disciplines:
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Oncologic
  • References: • Ladd SC. Whole-body MRI as a screening tool? Eur J Radiol. 2009;70(3):452-62.
    • Schmidt G, Dinter D, Reiser MF, Schoenberg SO. The uses and limitations of whole-body magnetic resonance imaging. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010;107(22):383-9.
    • Full-Body CT Scans – What You Need to Know, Radiation-Emitting Products. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [Internet]. Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 2010 [updated 2010 Apr 6; cited 2014 Dec 5]. Available from:

    Email Alerts

    Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

    Sign Up Now