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Full Body Scan Detects Wide Range of Problems

A computed tomography (CT) scan is a new, quick and easy test that can catch a whole host of problems before they become critical, our health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

Examining the entire body, CT scan is increasingly used by those who are not exactly ill but just worried they might be. It's controversial, but it can give doctors a look at the heart, liver, lungs and abdomen in hopes of finding disease long before symptoms set in.

Former police Captain Eileen Brennan knows all about risk factors for heart disease. "My father died of a massive heart attack when he was 61," says Eileen. "He had high blood pressure. My grandmother on my mother's side had high blood pressure, and I have high cholesterol right now. I worked in a very stress-related job for many years."

Eileen wanted to see if she had any signs of heart disease before it was too late. At University Heartscan in Manhattan, doctors watch over as ultra-fast CT technology scans her entire body looking for any abnormality.

"It's uniquely useful for detecting early hardening of the arteries or coronary atherosclerosis," says Dr. Allan Rubinstein. "It can also pick up and is extraordinarily sensitive for picking up early lung tumors before they spread."

Dr. Rubinstein quickly interprets the images of Eileen's cardiovascular system. Good news: no problems. He says that only people who are at risk of heart disease need to be tested. "Should it be used to screen twenty-five year old athletes? No," says Dr. Rubinstein.

The cost of CT scanning for screening purposes is not covered by many insurance companies. But for Eileen, the peace of mind is worth it. "If you can save your life, how much is you life worth?" asks Eileen.

While these tests are becoming increasingly popular as more and more centers open, not everyone sees them as beneficial. Some experts feel that their benefit is unproven and therefore people should not forgo other tests that doctors know can detect problems early.

When will this kind of service become widely available?

Right now the $800 dollar price tag for the test is a major stumbling block, because many insurance companies do not cover it.

Are there any other scanning methods available for this kind of early detection of disease?

Magnetic scans, or MRI's, are actually more detailed and better able to spot some problems, and we may someday see it in more widespread use. One reason these technologies take time to perfect is that doctors need time to become skilled at interpreting the scan results and then apply those skills to other diseases.

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