The title of this post is borrowed from a book published in 1967 by a doctor with the splendidly appropriate name of Alex Comfort. It deals with how doctors in the past and in the then present, inadvertently and ignorantly made people anxious, particularly over masturbation and constipation, among other matters in which they had set themselves up as experts. And doctors are still at it! The current anxiety being stirred up in some quarters is over cancer.

When I was in full-time practice, patients would occasionally ask to be referred for a whole body scan, ‘so then you can see what’s wrong.’ I had to explain why it’s not as simple as that. Nonetheless, the public’s insecurity in health matters is a bottomless trove which the purveyors of medical ‘tests’ can exploit and dig for deep profits.

I have written about this in relation to fake treatments, vitamin drips, and preventive medicine. Today I’m going to look at whole body scans.

An American company called Prenuvo has recently started offering whole body MRI scans direct to the public. This enterprise has been endorsed by two ‘celebrities’ called Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. I must confess I had never heard of these people but their celebrity status apparently means they’re famous for being famous.

Now let’s hear from Dr Katharine Halliday, President of The Royal College of Radiologists, who really does know what she’s talking about:

     The College has concerns about healthy people undergoing MRIs as there is a high likelihood of overdiagnosis and treatment of irregularities that often  turn out to be inconsequential.

Prenuvo, nonetheless, avers:

     Early detection through periodic Prenuvo scans can catch conditions when they are easy to treat…The Prenuvo scan can help you course-correct by telling you how your health has been affected and where to focus your efforts to improve your health…Prenuvo can provide peace of mind by diagnosing your condition or by focusing on the range of possible causes.

A snip at only $2,499!

A lot of this could be seen as misleading and rather than producing peace of mind may undermine it. Some cancers, even if found early, may be difficult or impossible to treat. And you can’t know that even if a cancer, say of the breast or prostate, is found early it would necessarily lead to problems if it remained undetected. Another problem is that even if the scan gave you the all-clear today, you could start developing a cancer tomorrow.

Just for fun I put my details into their ‘Assess the risk of 26 cancers’ test (how cheery!), in order to ‘Check your risk of all the most common cancers against 206 different risk variables in your life.’

Because of my age, the fact that I used to smoke (for about six months when I was a medical student, decades ago), and live in a large urban area, the predictable result was that I have an increased risk of cancer! Oh dear.

So what am I going to do about it? Nothing, and nothing – in that order. Even if I lived in the US (the only place at present where this test available) and even if it were free, I wouldn’t have it. Why? Because it would be a complete waste of time.

I have pointed this out before but it’s worth repeating. The rules for healthy living are simple and well known: don’t smoke, drink in moderation if at all, control your weight, take regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Medical tests have little place in this unless you have a family or personal history of health problems such as cancer or diabetes. Occasional blood pressure tests and cervical smear (‘pap’) test in women of the appropriate age are nonetheless sensible.

Finally, let me to remind you of these wise Biblical words:

     They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. (Matthew 9:12)

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Photo credit: Finn on Unsplash