Health Tests to Get, and Tests to Skip

Find out which tests the experts recommend, and which ones are not worth your time and money.

By Susan Ince

Body ScansMost experts don’t recommend full-body scans. When it comes to body-part specific CTs, the evidence is mixed:Heart Scans: Two types of CT scans, electron-beam tomography and multi-slice CT, measure the amount of calcium-containing plaque built up in your coronary arteries. The American Heart Association currently endorses heart scans only to help plan preventive strategies in individuals with a moderate or uncertain risk.Virtual Colonoscopy: The technique (when done with the latest tools) recently proved as accurate as the traditional method. But it may not seem so virtual once you’ve cleaned out your colon and had a tube stuck up your rectum. Participants in one study rated regular colonoscopy as less painful (perhaps thanks to sedatives). And because any polyps found must be removed via standard colonoscopy, the newer method probably won’t be recommended for high-risk individuals.Lung CT: Standard chest x-rays haven’t been shown to save lives; trials are under way to determine whether low-dose CT scans can do any better. A 1,520-person study detected 38 cancers — but to diagnose them, the doctors had to investigate suspicious nodules in 1,049 people. Of those nodules, 98 percent were benign, but additional tests and sometimes a biopsy were needed to rule out cancer.Weighing the Radiation RisksDon’t underestimate your exposure.

  • BONE-DENSITY SCAN = 2 days of average environmental radiation (from radon gas, cosmic rays, etc.)
  • CHEST X-RAY = 10 days of environmental radiation
  • DENTAL X-RAYS = 19 days of environmental radiation
  • MAMMOGRAM = 3 months of environmental radiation
  • HEAD CT SCAN = 8 months of environmental radiation
  • FULL-BODY SCAN = 3 years of environmental radiation

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