Over 4 out of 10 cancer cases are preventable.
Whole-body MRI for cancer detection


Natalie M Schenker-Ahmed, PhD, Hyun-Kyun Chung, PhD and Dr. David S Karow, MD,PhD

Whole Body Imaging for Cancer Detection

Whole Body Imaging is used to create a representation of the entire body in a single procedure. Both computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used, but generally for different purposes. Because of the significant radiation exposure from a CT scan, it is not generally recommended for screening in healthy individuals.

Whole-body MRI is used to create a representation of the entire body in a single procedure. Both computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used, but generally for different purposes. Because of the significant radiation exposure from a CT scan, it is not generally recommended for screening in healthy individuals. CT is a form of X‑ray and uses ionizing radiation that can damage DNA and may increase a person’s long-term risk of cancer. PET/​CT (positron emission tomography) exposes the patient to even more radiation. For the purpose of cancer screening, MRI is recommended, particularly in individuals with cancer predisposition syndromes. For example, whole body MRI is recommended for annual screening for individuals with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS)1, hereditary paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma syndromes2, and those with constitutional mismatch repair deficiency syndrome (CMMRD)3. Furthermore, studies have well-documented the ability of WB-MRI to detect cancer4 – 7, to monitor disease progression, and to assess therapy effectiveness8 – 9. Thousands of whole body MRI examinations have been performed all over the world for members of health check-up programs, including thousands of clients at our own Health Nucleus. Its high sensitivity for detecting early stage cancers, present in 1 – 2% of individuals who believe themselves to be healthy, makes whole-body MRI an essential element of proactive health care management. In contrast, for individuals with some cancer predisposition syndromes, a lifetime risk of developing cancer has been estimated to be between 73% and 100%10 and early detection is particularly critical. A cancer discovered at an early stage can often be treated on an outpatient basis with significantly lowered costs and quality of life impact relative to treatments for late-stage cancer. Furthermore, targeted interventions can appropriately manage the disease to allow longer, healthier life.

Non-invasive full body MRI to detect cancer

One type of magnetic resonance imaging, known as diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), has been used for detecting the presence of tumors for nearly 20 years. This type of imaging measures the way that water moves in the body, and tumors have a characteristic signature that differentiates them from surrounding tissue. As a result, the DWI signal lights up” when there is a tumor. Numerous studies have shown this type of MRI to be very useful for identifying tumors in the brain11 – 12, prostate12 – 13, and breast14 – 15 among others. In addition, morphologic correlations with multiple anatomic images improve the accuracy. Full-body MRI is capable of characterizing tissues in many different ways to differentiate abnormal pathology and normal tissue.

Whole-body Imaging at Health Nucleus

The imaging protocol at Health Nucleus provides a comprehensive cancer screening of many core organs (excluding skin, GI tract, and breast for now) including dedicated imaging of the brain, liver, pancreas, prostate (for men), and pelvis (for women). These scans include a fully automated visualization tool for cancer detection. Color-coded heat” maps overlaid on whole-body anatomic MR images enhance the ability of reading radiologists to detect pathological features (such as cancer) quickly and accurately without the use of injected contrast agents and ionizing radiation. Health Nucleus has unique and unparalleled expertise in whole body interpretation and a second Board-certified radiologist over-reads every exam to minimize false positives and false negatives. 

Unlike other types of full body scans sometimes used for whole body screening, radiation-free MRIs allow for yearly repeat analysis, without increased risk of DNA damage and subsequent cancer. The 3D imaging examination of the body anatomy and function can detect unsuspected disease in the earliest stage. Annual assessment provides clients with updated reports that track meaningful imaging biomarkers for monitoring and optimizing the clients’ health over time.

Learn more about Whole-body MRI

Download our Full Body MRI white paper: Full Body Magnetic Resonance Imaging from Health Nucleus


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