Celebrities Are Getting Full-Body MRIs to Check Their Health. Should You?

A long view looking at the top of a person's head in an MRI machine surrounded by red, yellow, orange, and green lights.


Key Takeaways

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical scan that creates pictures of different areas inside of the body. MRIs can be used to look for tumors, infections, injuries, and other health conditions.
  • A whole-body MRI might be able to spot diseases early, but experts say there is not enough research to prove that they are useful as screening tests for the general public.  
  • There are other preventative steps that are more accessible and less costly that can spot cancer and other health conditions.

TV personality Amanda Kloots recently took to Instagram to post about her experience getting a whole-body magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) with Prenuvo, a medical diagnostic imaging center. She's one of several celebrities signing on for preventative MRIs despite being perfectly healthy.

“I had never had an MRI before or even done anything like this before but I’m a huge believer in doing anything I can to keep myself healthy and learn about my body,” Kloots wrote in her caption. “This is preventive healthcare to save for. If they find something that saves your life it would be invaluable.”

Prenuvo is one of several services that offer patients full body scans that claim to pick up nearly 500 diseases you may not even know you have, including cancer. While the tool sounds like a good thing if you can afford it, it’s not without risks.

Annual health check-ups with your primary provider and routine vaccinations are typically among the easiest and most accessible preventive health care measures. Here’s why health experts don’t think MRIs fall into that category.

How Do Whole-Body MRIs Work?

Resten Imaoka, MD, a radiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, told Verywell that whole-body magnetic resonance imaging is a medical exam that takes pictures of the entire body using magnetic energy. It is also a technique that can be used for early diagnosis, staging, and assessment of treatment response in cancer medicine.

According to Imaoka, other imaging methods like X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans have risks because they expose you to high doses of radiation. A benefit of MRIs is that they do not use ionizing radiation.

Whole-body MRIs include the typical sets of imaging sequences you’d get with a regular MRI, and they look at certain body parts or regions. They can often be done in less than an hour; however, there can be variations in how long they take depending on the need for more images of specific body parts.

What Can Whole-Body MRIs Find?

Generally speaking, MRIs provide great detail and resolution of the organs and can detect most medical conditions, like cancer, tumors, infections, inflammatory conditions, and vascular conditions.

“There are certain diseases that MRI is the gold standard for—for example, the nervous system and the spinal cord,” Edward Estrin, MD, a radiologist at Brighton Radiology Associates, told Verywell. “MRI is wonderful at detecting multiple sclerosis and strokes. It’s also very good at looking for cancers and the way cancers have spread.”

Imaoka said that whole body-MRIs can pick up multiple myeloma—cancer that has spread to the bone marrow (metastases). It can also help with tumor staging/size and monitoring of disease progression for other cancers like breast, ovarian, prostate, melanoma, and colorectal.

However, MRIs aren’t great for detecting lung disease, or for properly detecting abnormalities in people with metallic implants.

Who Should–and Shouldn't—Get Whole-Body MRIs

Whole-body MRIs may be useful as a cancer screening tool in healthy patients who conditions that may predisposed them to cancer, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome (a rare genetic disorder) or neurofibromatosis type 1 (a gene mutation that causes tumors along the nervous system). But as a screening tool in the general population? Not so much.

A recent analysis from researchers in Europe found that MRI screening in adults who did not have symptoms of any disease led to clinically relevant findings in about one-third of the patients. Of those findings, 2.6% were confirmed as invasive cancers through pathology.

Those numbers are pretty high, Imaoka said, suggesting MRIs could be a preventive health measure in addition to recommended screenings. But it’s not reflective of other research on the subject.

Mina Makary, MD, a vascular and interventional radiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Verywell that if it’s used in people with no symptoms, whole-body MRIS could potentially detect abnormalities that won’t be helpful (what’s called incidental or clinically irrelevant findings) or even lead to errors or misdiagnosis. Just because something pops up doesn’t mean it’s a problem.

These findings could lead to more tests that could be costly, invasive, and cause anxiety and emotional/physical stress for a patient.

There is also a small chance that the test would miss a condition that is actually present (false-negative) and lead to a missed diagnosis.

Because techniques for whole-body MRIs have not been standardized, that means they won’t be done the same way in different states and the quality and effectiveness will not be consistent between different scanners and sites.

Experts say that until technical and interpretive guidelines for whole body-MRI are standardized, people may find it difficult to access or pay for this kind of care.

“This, unfortunately, means that the average American without a large disposable income may not feasibly have the opportunity to have a whole body-MRI,” said Imaoka.

How Much Do MRIs Cost? 

The cost of a whole-body MRI will vary depending on where you get it done. In general, Makary said that the price of the test can be several thousand dollars if you’re paying out of pocket.

Resten Imaoka, MD

The average American without a large disposable income may not feasibly have the opportunity to have a WB-MRI.

— Resten Imaoka, MD

For example, an MRI that screens a specific body part can cost $1,000 while a full-body MRI could be up to $5,000.

Makary added that since whole body-MRI is currently not established as a screening exam for the general population, to his knowledge, most insurance carriers do not cover it unless it’s been approved based on specific circumstances or medical conditions.

Some medical accounts you may have—like a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA)—could be used to cover the cost of a WB-MRI. That said, how much is covered will depend on your plan since these accounts have specific rules and criteria.

Edward Estrin, MD

I would not recommend a full-body MRI for anybody who wants to spend the money just to see what’s going on in their body.

— Edward Estrin, MD

What Are the Alternatives to Full-Body MRIs?

Instead of using whole body-MRIs as a preventative health measure, Estrin said that there are other (and better) screening methods that can offer specific, actionable information for patients. For example, mammography is inexpensive and is better at detecting breast cancer than an MRI.

“It’s a very complex and expensive exam,” said Estrin. “It’s not going to hurt to get one, but there are much better ways to detect cancer early, and a full-body MRI might give you a false sense of confidence.”

The bottom line? “I would not recommend a full-body MRI for anybody who wants to spend the money just to see what’s going on in their body,” said Estrin. “I don’t think that’s the way to go.

What This Means For You

Experts don’t recommend whole-body MRIs to check for diseases like cancer for most people. The tests are costly and not standardized, so the results you get may or may not be helpful. There are other preventive steps you can take that are more accessible and affordable, and often are better at picking up on a disease than MRIs would be.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. University of California, San Francisco Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging. Risks of radiation.

  3. Mount Sinai. Chest MRI.

  4. Stanford Medicine. MRI near metal.

  5. Basar Y, Alis D, Tekcan Sanli DE, Akbas T, Karaarslan E. Whole-body MRI for preventive health screening: Management strategies and clinical implications. Eur J Radiol. 2021;137:109584. doi:10.1016/j.ejrad.2021.109584

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.