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Finding Illness Before It Strikes

For those who can afford it, a revolutionary test called the Ultrafast CAT Scan promises to uncover evidence of disease years before it strikes by giving a 3-D look of the body's organs, Paul Moniz reports.

Forty-nine-year-old Sherry Wallack is willing to shell out $750, not one cent of which will be reimbursed by insurance: she is determined to calm her fears about 10 years of smoking.

"I lost two best friends to heart disease," she says. "One was 44. The other was 58."

The futuristic million dollar scan scopes the entire body for heart disease, cancer, tumors, and early signs of stroke--all in 15 minutes. Advocates say people at risk for coronary disease are ideal candidates for the scanner. It can detect calcification of the vessel walls.

Those who perform the test say it is revolutionary.

"Lives have been saved because of this," Dr. Allan Rubenstein of University HeartScan, which performed the Ultrafast CAT Scan, maintains.

But the scan, which many baby boomers see as the ultimate health insurance policy, is controversial in the medical community.

Prominent cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz says that while there are benefits, scan results can be misleading.

"Just the fact that you have a little bit of calcium in your heart doesn't really mean you have heart disease," he points out.

The danger is that the scanner results could send doctors on a hunting expedition.

"Evaluating [patients] by doing biopsies or further tests might cause the patient discomfort," Dr. Kim Adcock, a radiologist, argues. "[It] might actually jeopardize the patient's well-being. And there are known cases where it's been fatal to the patient."

Supporters of the scan acknowledge that it's not cost effective for young healthy people but insist it has tremendous benefit for those over 40 or those with risk factors, such as family history or being overweight.

Determining if the Ultrafast CAT Scan's science is on the cutting edge or is a slick marketing ploy seems to depend on how it's used. Before you decide to have one, you should ask a doctor if it's really necessary.

Sherry Wallack doesn't think her $750 was misspent. Her results showed that absolutely nothing is wrong.

"I think peace of mind has a value," she says.

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