Should You Get a Full-Body MRI?

Full-body MRIs have been in the spotlight recently — with celebrities and influencers using the tool to get a comprehensive picture of their health. For a high price, these all-encompassing MRIs will scan the body from head to toe and have the ability to detect various abnormalities that may be lurking inside you. One company, Prenuvo, offers a full-body MRI that claims to detect 500 conditions. However, while scans can detect harmful tumors and diseases, they can also detect benign, harmless growths in the body — which can lead to unnecessary, invasive follow-up testing for some people.

Doctors say full body MRIs have their benefits — but aren’t for everyone. They suggest weighing risk, benefits and affordability before signing up for a full body scan. Here’s what to know about full body MRIs from companies like Prenuvo, SimonMed, Neko Health and Ezra to help you make an informed decision about whether or not to book one.

[READ 8 Tips for Choosing an Orthopedic Surgeon]

What Is a Full-Body MRI?

An MRI, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging, is a detailed imaging scan of the body. MRIs can be conducted on specific body parts, like the abdomen, breast area or brain, or on the entire body. A full-body MRI, as its name implies, is an MRI of the entire body.

MRIs do not use radiation, which sets them apart from other commonly used scans — like X-rays, PET scans or CT scans — and makes them, for some patients, less risky. MRIs can also show clearer images of the body than CT scans. However, the magnets used in MRIs can react poorly to certain wearable implanted devices, like cochlear implants, making the scan inaccessible for some people.

What Happens During a Full-Body MRI?

The process of a full body MRI is similar to that of any other MRI. The main difference is, because the scan needs to look at your entire body rather than one part, it will likely take longer. Depending on the package you choose and the company you get it from, a full-body MRI can last about 30 minutes to an hour.

Below are the steps for a full-body MRI:

1. To get started, you will change into an exam gown and remove any metal jewelry or accessories that could interfere with the magnets. Your radiologist should remind you of this before the scan starts.

2. Once changed, you will enter the scanning room and lie down on a scanning bed, which a radiologist then retracts into an MRI machine. The machine may resemble a narrow igloo, or white tunnel.

3. During your scan, you will likely hear various banging and beeping noises. These are normal and part of the process.

4. After the full-body scan, you can go about your day as normal — or switch up your routine, if you want to take your mind off waiting for results.

The timeframe for receiving results after an exam may vary. Dr. John Simon, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based board-certified radiologist with an additional certification in interventional radiology and CEO of imaging company SimonMed Imaging, says results from his company’s full-body MRI — the simonONE — tend to be available about five days after the scan. Once ready, he says patients can review findings on an online portal and discuss these with a provider via telehealth too.

[SEE: 10 Symptoms of a Kidney Problem.]

Is It Worth Getting a Full-Body MRI?

Full-body MRIs have the potential to transform disease detection and prevention. Due to MRIs’ already clear pictures and non-reliance on radiation, the expanded technology can visualize multiple areas of the body — and catch harmful growths and biomarkers that hide within them.

Disease detection

As a few examples, full-body MRIs can assess for and potentially detect:

— Various neurodegenerative conditions

— Spinal cord injuries

— Degenerative diseases

— Musculoskeletal conditions, like arthritis, osteopenia and osteoporosis

— Cancerous tumors and types of inflammation

The earlier these conditions are diagnosed, the quicker a person can start treatment and be on the road to disease management or recovery.

Detecting these issues can empower patients and doctors to manage, treat or cure ailments. It can also give patients knowledge about their health to help them make informed decisions about their lifestyle or diet.

“The learnings from their whole-body MRIs can enable people to take preventive health care measures and better planning for their futures when they’re given a full picture of their health,” Simon says.

Simon adds that he worked with some patients for whom a full-body MRI revealed signs of fatty liver disease. Once aware of these findings, the patients started exercise programs, addressed hypertension and high cholesterol levels and focused on eating healthier, he says. At a yearly follow up, “scans demonstrated improvement such as the reversal of fatty liver changes, reducing the risk of chronic liver disease.”

Dr. Anteo Pashaj, regional medical director at Strive, a kidney-care company that focuses on early detection and intervention for kidney disease, says he sees potential for full-body MRIs to be used as a risk-stratified prevention tool down the line — similar to how colonoscopies are recommended as a screening tool for people around age 45 or earlier based on risk factors for colorectal cancer. Pashaj, who is based in South Lyon, Michigan, and routinely counsels patients on preventive screening measures and screening tests, adds that despite the benefits, he does not recommend full-body MRIs for everyone. In 2024, he says that the exam is still too pricey and potential risks are high enough that they may outweigh perks for some people.

“Just like everything else in life, it’s a risk-benefit analysis,” Pashaj adds.

Before getting out your credit card to book a full-body MRI, Pashaj encourages taking time to think about your health goals, current health status, medical recommendations and budget.

[SEE: Health Screenings You Need Now.]

What Are the Risks of a Full Body MRI?

A full-body MRI can be lifesaving if it finds a hidden cancer. But if instead it finds a benign growth, it can lead to unnecessary anxiety and invasive testing.

“When you’re doing scans — doesn’t matter what the scan is — without some sort of indication, you can get into trouble,” Pashaj says.

By this, he means any type of screening test that is ordered for preventive measures and not as a result of symptoms or risk factors connected to disease the test is looking for. These screens at times can find nothing, or find incidental growths that could be but are not necessarily connected to a disease or threatening your health.

In a small study on full-body MRIs between March 2009 and December 2011, researchers found that out of 83 patients with incidental findings, 103 benign lesions and two malignant lesions were detected. However, the researchers noted that the size of the study — which included 118 participants — posed limitations to their findings and further studies may be needed to fully weigh the costs and benefits.

Benign lesions can include harmless cysts, skin abnormalities, hernias or benign tumors, which may look scary on a scan but don’t actually hurt the body. The problem, Pashaj says, is that once a doctor finds one of these, it’s good medical practice to check it out further. That can mean ordering more tests, like other types of imaging or biopsies. Biopsies in particular can be invasive and pose risks to the patient, he adds.

“Now you’re predisposed to excess procedures that you may have never needed, and possibly excess complications,” Pashaj says. “The big fear from the medical community is that it’s going to lead to a lot more unnecessary procedures.”

In fact, the American College of Radiology issued a statement in 2023 stating the group does not believe there is “sufficient evidence to justify recommending total body screening for patients with no clinical symptoms, risk factors or a family history suggesting underlying disease or serious injury,” — fearing unnecessary testing, procedures and significant additional expense. The ACR says it’ll continue to monitor new research, but that to date, there’s no documented evidence that full body MRIs are effective or cost-efficient at “prolonging life.”

It’s also important to know that a full-body MRI won’t be able to detect every cancer. They can even miss some pathologies so they should not replace routine cancer screening procedures like colonoscopies, pap smears and mammograms. A full-body MRI is not a substitute for other health screenings.

How Much Does a Full-Body MRI Cost?

If you want to pursue full-body MRI, you will have to factor in whether this test is financially accessible to you. Full-body MRIs come with a high price tag that is not covered by insurance — at least, not for screening purposes.

Without support from insurance, the price of a full-body MRI can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

SimonMed: The simonONE Body scan, which scans the body from the head to pelvis, ranges from $650 to $950 per session. The simonONE Body Plus, which also scans the body from head to pelvis but includes additional AI-powered imaging features, ranges from $1,250 to $1,550 per session.

Prenuvo: At Prenuvo, a full-body scans can cost $2,499 per session. Prenuvo also offers partial body scans, including a torso scan and a head and torso scan, at lower prices.

Ezra: At Ezra, scans range from a 30 minute “full-body flash” MRI at $1,350 to a more advanced hour-long scan priced at $1,950.

“It’s sort of living in the niche of concierge medicine or folks who can afford it and are very keen on their health,” Pashaj says. This can lead to some inequities in health care, as people who earn less money will be less likely to afford the test than people who make more money. However, for now, Pashaj says that the inequities shouldn’t be too huge — as these screens aren’t recommended for everyone.

While patients cannot receive direct financial assistance with insurance coverage, at times people subsidize the cost indirectly by using health savings account, or HSA, dollars to pay for it as a preventive service.

“Hopefully within the next few years as additional data on MRI whole body screening is published, this will shift as preventive care grows in importance,” Simon adds.

Full-body scans for cancer are currently the only full-body MRIs covered by insurance — and even then, only in some circumstances. In these cases, people not only have cancer but have undergone a PET scan that showed a hyperactivity of cells. The full-body MRI is used as next-step tool to see if — and if so, where — the cancer has metastasized, Pashaj says.

Otherwise, MRIs are usually only covered when they’re localized. For example, if your insurance were to pay for an MRI looking into a gastrointestinal issue, they would likely cover an MRI of your abdomen specifically.

Should You Get a Full-Body MRI?

Due to the risks and costs involved, full-body MRIs aren’t for everyone. To help you decide whether or not a full body scan is something you want to pursue, here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. What will I do if the scan finds something?

When contemplating whether or not to get a full-body MRI, Pashaj says the first thing to ask yourself is what you’ll do if your scan shows incidental findings — dangerous or benign.

If your answer is that you will not act on it and will refuse to undergo further diagnostic testing or possible treatments, Pashaj says your line of questioning should end here. As a patient, it is your right to deny tests and take control of your own health. However, a full-body MRI is a diagnostic tool — and an expensive one, at that. So if you don’t want to do anything about a diagnosis, should you receive one, it is best to save your dollars.

If your answer is that you will act on it and proceed with other imaging scans or tests your doctor may recommend, continue on to the next question.

2. Have I taken other recommended tests first?

If you are worried that you may have one condition in particular, there may be a more specific MRI or other imaging scan that is better suited for you. And depending on if you have a doctor’s order in place, this may be covered by insurance. If you haven’t talked to your doctor about the imaging tests that could benefit you and your personal health risks, it is a good idea to do this first.

3. What does my doctor say about this?

In addition to asking your primary care doctor about specific tests, you can ask them their thoughts on a full body MRI. They may be able to talk you through risks and benefits, personalized to your health history.

4. How will I pay for the exam?

As discussed, full body MRIs are not cheap. Thinking about how you will pay for the exam, or what you need to do to save for it, is an important step in your decision.

Ultimately, the decision to or to not get a full-body MRI is up to you. However, for now, you do not need to feel pressured to get the test in order to catch all your health problems. Physical exams and more specific screenings are available to help you make informed decisions about your body should you decide to skip the full-body MRI.

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