Kim K’s latest live-your-best life advice involves getting a state-of-the-art Prenuvo MRI scan to detect and prevent disease. Paris Hilton and Miranda Kerr have had one too. But how wise do doctors think this is?
You can always count on Kim Kardashian to improve your life with her helpful tips – although it does often require having a bob or two in the bank. This month, she posted a shot of herself in some stylish scrubs, heartily recommending what looked suspiciously like an MRI scanner. “The Prenuvo full-body scan has the ability to detect cancer and diseases such as aneurysms in its earliest stages, before symptoms arise,” she captioned.
Paris Hilton beat her to it last year with a trip to Prenuvo for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day. “My grandmother passed away from breast cancer and I miss her every single day,” she ‘grammed. “I can't stress how important it is for my mental health to make sure I'm being proactive and not reactive when it comes to my physical health.” She urged “every single one of you to go get a scan and make sure you are taking care of yourselves,” omitting that you’d need about £2k spare to do so.
Beauty entrepreneur and model Miranda Kerr submitted herself for the scan in January and shared images of her brain, taking the concept of a selfie to new levels. “We did a full body scan and confirmed everything from my brain to my liver is healthy. I left their office with so much peace of mind, she enthused.
Despite what Kim implied in her post (“it was like getting an MRI for an hour with no radiation”), Prenuvo is indeed an MRI scanner, just a state-of-the-art one. MRI never deploys radiation but uses magnetic fields to obtain images of your insides (in that, it is different from a CT scan, which uses X-rays). It is, of course, routinely used by doctors if they suspect something is awry medically that is not visible on the outside. As the scans are expensive, you won’t get your GP to prescribe you one unless you have some worrying symptoms.
Why the hype about Prenuvo?
Kim (and one assumes Paris too) had no health complaints that made her have the scan – but this is where glamorous venture capital-backed medical start-ups like Prenuvo come in. In an era in which access to medical care feels limited and unreliable, where interest in preventative health is increasing and in which being inundated with health information (real as well as nonsense) inspires more anxiety than confidence, services such as this that offer a 360-degree, inside-out picture of your current state of health, complete with a record of any early abnormalities that could lead to issues in the future, sound like a genius idea. As Prenuvo itself puts it, “we help patients improve their life span,” effectively pitching this type of test as a form of proactive biohacking.
The company states that their scanner is “the most precise, comprehensive whole body [including the brain, spine, joints and organs] MRI scan that exists today. We use proprietary cutting-edge acquisition techniques, and unique analytic software to make early and accurate diagnoses.”
What is unique about the machine, they say, is the speed with which it can acquire a huge number of images of the entire body in an hour (which is indeed significantly faster than any other scanner). It also uses AI (after over 12 years of collecting clinical data) to detect and predict issues.
What can it find? According to what Kim K’s hairstylist Chris Appleton told his four million followers on Instagram (while also posing hunkily in scrubs and citing the company's literature) the machine can pick up “solid cancerous tumours at stage 1 and about 500 other diseases, including spine herniations and fatty liver disease." With cancer in his family, it was time for some ‘self-care’, he said, in the shape of a $2500 (about £1960) Prenuvo scan.
A strong family history of cancer or past cancer diagnosis can of course be an important reason for having the scan, as can a history of heart disease, with markers of blood clots and stroke also being detected.
Indeed, US TV anchor Maria Menounos thanked Prenuvo for detecting her pancreatic cancer “early enough to save my life. Know I’m working to get these scans covered by insurance for everyone!!” she wrote on Instagram in May.
Should you get a full-body MRI scan?
Prenuvo is not coming to London until 2024, but private and preventative MRI scans are available relatively widely in the UK at diagnostics and imaging clinics like Prescan and sleek private health clinics such as London’s Lanserhof at the Arts Club. Prices are at the £2000 mark, or sometimes significantly higher.
But while no physician would advise against an MRI if you’re referred by a doctor (getting a private one in this case would obviously speed up the process considerably), most medical pros are not enthusiastic at all about people getting ‘preventative’ body scans.
“It’s a personal choice, but patients need to be aware of the risks,” says one radiologist at London’s One Welbeck private health clinic, whom I approach for comment. “Many of these scans, particularly as we get older, reveal abnormalities which may provoke further investigations and sometimes invasive procedures.”
Basically, small abnormalities that often go away by themselves (these can even include small cancers that are unlikely to cause harm in a patient’s lifetime) can lead to ‘wild goose chase’ investigations.
“The anxiety while going through this process is not to be underestimated,” says our radiologist. “And neither are the ongoing costs.” He feels that “individuals with no symptoms should be counselled about this in advance, especially because the practice of ‘preventative screening’ lacks evidence.”
Indeed, he says, it’s not recommended by many of the medical colleges, including the American College of Preventive Medicine.
Screening tests such as MRIs should, he strongly feels, “only be utilised after an initial assessment has been undertaken, preferably face to face.” In other words, only after referral from a doctor.
What’s the next best thing to having a preventative MRI scan?
That’s not to say that preventative health measures aren’t hugely important and beneficial for all of us. Proven lifestyle-based strategies are all over this website and include a varied diet of fresh wholefoods, regular exercise and stress-relieving mind-body pursuits such as yoga, cutting back on cell-degenerating substances such as alcohol, sugar and nicotine, slapping on the sunscreen and maintaining supportive social bonds.
The NHS is offers routine screening for all the high-risk categories, so never ignore those letters inviting you for your latest smear test, mammogram, colonoscopy or cholesterol screening.
What’s it like having an MRI scan?
With all that in mind, no one will stop you booking your own MRI scan, whether it’s to put your mind at ease about an issue or purely as a preventative measure. You won’t be alone: “There have been many organisations marketing imaging in asymptomatic patients for 20 years at least, initially with CT and now with MRI,” says our radiologist. “It’s definitely a growing area of practice.”
Prenuvo and its clients tell many stories of tumours having been caught early by the machine, making removal and recovery far easier and more successful.
With Prenuvo as yet only available in the US and Canada, the most widely used and recommended machines in the UK are 3T MRI scanners, which boast the best image quality. According to our radiologist at One Welbeck, all “modern MRI scanners utilise similar sequences and have similar performance. You can differentiate one service from another with a slick website and by adding AI, but the hardware is the same and the reporting radiologist remains key.”
Scans are charged for different parts of the body, which means that if you want the entire body done, costs add up and so does the time of the scan, which in some cases can take up to four hours.
MRI scanning means lying stock-still on a sort of tray in a metal ‘tube’, while the machine makes clanging metallic noises that sound a bit like the worst kind of roadworks or Death Metal. You’ll get some noise-cancelling headphones but the experience is not particularly pleasant, as you absolutely cannot move, and it obviously gets harder the longer you have to lie there. It is completely painless, however.
Sadly, we can’t guarantee you some sexy navy scrubs - a backless apron is more likely.