Jun 18, 2023 - Health

Startup Prenuvo now offering body scans in Chicago — and I did it

Justin prepares for his full body scan at Prenuvo in the West Loop. Photo courtesy of a Prenuvo staffer

Throughout history, humans have asked the elusive questions: When and how will we die?

  • Though we can't predict our mortality, a new technology wants to give patients more control over how to live.

What's happening: The Silicon Valley startup Prenuvo has improved upon imaging technology to create a whole body scan that screens for cancers and long-term diseases. They recently started offering the scans in their new practice in Chicago, on Van Buren in the West Loop.

  • And I did it.

Why it matters: Prenuvo says the whole body scan screens for 500 conditions, including most tumors, aneurysms and cysts.

  • And it uses MRI technology, so no radiation is involved.

What they're saying: "When you even hear the word disease or medical diagnosis, instantly you start feeling fearful, because we live in a system where those things are caught late," Prenuvo founder Andrew Lacy tells Axios.

  • "When I got a body scan, I learned more about my health than the health system had told me my entire life."

Yes, but: You could get a clean bill of health on a scan today, but that doesn't stop a cancerous tumor from growing tomorrow.

  • Plus, the technology is cost-prohibitive for patients, particularly as regular maintenance. A scan costs about $2,500, and it's not covered by insurance. Still, Prenuvo hopes patients commit to getting scans annually.
  • The company hopes that by scaling up their business in several cities, they can boost their clientele, which can help cover equipment and imaging costs and lower prices for patients.

How it works: The scan takes an hour to complete. Like an MRI, you lie supine, strapped into a stretcher, and are slowly moved through the narrow machine.

  • Be warned: It's not for the claustrophobic. But during the extensive pre-scan screening, you're offered sedatives if lying in a tube for an hour is not your thing.
  • A few days after your scan, a nurse practitioner calls to go over your results.

The intrigue: I set up an appointment with my general practitioner to talk about the results and get his take on the possibly world-changing technology. He wasn't enthusiastic.

  • He argued the scans cause undue anxiety. Our bodies have all sorts of nodules and cysts, he said, and the scans make patients feel they may have problems, when in most cases they don't.

Reality check: The American College of Preventive Medicine says medical professional societies do not recommend whole-body scanning for asymptomatic people.

  • "The scans are likely to result in little benefit to patients, cause significant harms, and waste money and health care resources," the ACPM says.

Without the recommendations and doctors ordering Prenuvo's body scans, insurance companies are cautious to cover new procedures. But companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois aren't shutting the door entirely.

  • "Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois continually studies new developments and new innovations in preventive services for our members," a company spokesperson tells Axios.

Zoom in: Luckily, in my case, they didn't find much. My knees, shoulders and spine are degenerating, but that may be normal for a 48-year-old. There was a nodule in my lung, but my doctor said that it wasn't big enough to meet the medical field's standard for a follow-up chest scan.

  • The nurse practitioner also told me I have bulging discs in my spine but said that's the most common thing found among patients who do the full body scan.

The bottom line: The scans give you a glimpse into your overall health, but there are small risks involved. In addition to its still being expensive, you have to be mentally prepared for the results.

  • For the first time in my life, I've thought differently about aches and pains that spring up from time to time. The experience isn't making me go down a rabbit hole, but instead it's forcing me to think about how I live, instead of worrying about how and when I'll die.
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