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Should You Get A Preventative CT Scan?

patient getting a catscan
CBS
Forty-seven-year-old Dallas attorney Mike Collins has never felt better.

But as a former smoker, whose own father died of emphysema, he needed reassurance, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

"I'm in a high stress job and I've got teenage kids and I'd like to be around for them," says Collins.

So Collins joined the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are electing each year to have preventative full-body CT scans, a procedure that can give them the inside story of how they're doing.

"By and large it's the baby boomer generation," said Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Aerobic Center. "They're knowledgeable. They want to know if they've got any developing disease and what they can do to prevent it."

For people like Los Angeles Police Commander Betty Kelepecz, the test can be a life-saving procedure: Her CT scan found a golf-ball-sized cancerous tumor, and her right kidney was removed before any symptoms appeared.

"That preventative cat scan really did save my life," she said. "If it had metastasized, I would have had a 10 to 15 percent chance of living beyond five years."

But Kelepecz's own doctor is among the majority of physicians who question the value of the procedure.

"In Betty's case it was helpful. But she's a very, very rare exception," said urologist Dr. Jerry Lieskovsky.

It's not just the average $800 cost which patients pay since insurance companies won't. It's the reliability of the exam -- missing real problems or finding problems that later prove false.

"The predictive value as far as identifying something that may be positive as in Betty's case may be relatively few," said Dr. Lieskovsky.

But try to convince Mike Collins, who's just seen an image of his inner-self.

"Peace of mind means a lot to me and I need to know," he said. "And so now that I do, I can go on and do something else."

Spoken like a true baby boomer -- the generation that just can't seem to get enough of itself.