In this age of technological capitalism the rules of wealth and social status change rapidly. The last time Kim Kardashian bragged about having access to elite medical technology on Instagram, it was to prove that her bottom was real with an X-ray. But last August, the businesswoman posted about another incident that gave her all the illusion of mental peace and control she needed (at least for a year). Wearing slippers and a gray hospital gown, Kim stood in front of an MRI machine – a tube into which she spent an hour barely moving, as all of her organs were examined. A full body scan concluded that there were no growths in his body that could cause immediate harm or discomfort.
The photo — which had nearly 30,000 comments beneath it, about five times the number of comments she usually gets on her posts — caused a serious case of collective FOMO. Half the world was wondering: Do I need an MRI to rule out future disease? Should I take a loan to afford it?
Kardashian had the scan at the Prenuvo clinic. The company—based in Redwood, California—offers MRIs for between $1,000 and $2,500 that promise to detect tumors, brain aneurysms and degenerative diseases (such as multiple sclerosis) at very early stages. The company is part of a thriving industry backed by big investors, many of whom have made the jump from the less lucrative streaming sector.
Ezra, Neco Health, and SimonMed are other companies that sell MRIs to healthy people. Neko Health, created by Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek, has raised $65 million in a funding round this year. Meanwhile, Prenuvo raised $70 million in 2022: Its shareholders include former model Cindy Crawford and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The company benefits from an unprecedented alliance between fashion and medicine: During New York Fashion Week, several designers and models alternated posts from catwalk shows with full-body MRI scans on Instagram. A combination that may explain the hype that this medical technology is experiencing.
The demand is definitely increasing. On the one hand, there are so-called biohackers – highly paid tech professionals who are convinced of being able to cheat biology – and on the other hand there are the majority of people who have learned about a poor diagnosis from someone close to them and have decided Invest in reducing uncertainty. At the time of writing, Neco Health claims its clinics have completed 1,000 MRIs so far, while there is a waiting list of 11,000 people. When asked, Ezra admitted that requests increased after Kardashian’s post the new York Times.
Oncologists and radiologists consulted by EL PAÍS view these practices with a mixture of distrust and skepticism. Why would a healthy person want to undergo a lengthy – and sometimes unpleasant – procedure, without any clinical indication that would justify it?
Dr. explains, “Screening – tracking the disease in an asymptomatic individual based on parameters such as age or risk factors – is best done with a clear clinical indication, when its effectiveness and costs, benefits and There is strong evidence of a balance between risks.” Olga Monteagudo, from the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine.
“These programs are designed to benefit the population as a group – not specific individuals. Opportunistic screening strategies are not feasible for the general population because of their high cost and low probability of finding tumors without typical clinical signs, says Dr. Rodrigo Sanchez-Varona, an oncologist based in Madrid.
When consulted by EL PAÍS about what can be seen during a whole-body scan, Asuncion Torregrosa, president of the Spanish Society of Medical Radiology and a radiologist at Hospital La Fe in Valencia, emphasized that the type of MRI is being promoted as having no ionizing radiation. Therefore, in fashionable scanners, the risk does not exist. However, this does not mean that she finds the process useful.
“Whole body MRI – without organ-specific sequences – has poor resolution and is not the most effective for detecting early lesions. A lesion visible on a whole-body MRI is probably already causing symptoms… at least in cases of cancer. “I find it more useful to detect an aneurysm,” the radiologist explains. She admits that she might get one of those MRIs to feel calmer about the lower back pain, but She doesn’t like to go through this process. “It is a long test. For at least 40 minutes, you should not move. And (the margin of error) is higher.”
What comes after getting a suspicious image is “a chain reaction of low-value diagnostic tests — some invasive — that generate anxiety and anguish,” says Dr. Milagros Otero, a radiologist at the University Hospital of Vigo in Spain. A 2019 meta-analysis studied 5,000 healthy people who underwent this test and concluded that 16% of diagnoses were false positives. Only 32% of patients were found to have any “medically relevant anomaly”.
Dr. Otero wonders how often this test should be done to maintain peace of mind. This suspicion is shared by Dr. Carlos Álvarez Fernández, a medical oncologist at the Central University Hospital of Asturias in Spain. “What will be the frequency of rest? (Every) two, three, five or ten years?” he asks. “Any test – no matter how sophisticated – always has a limitation. (After that), there will be no way to get more information. Anyone who boards the machine must be aware of this.
“There is no additional protection with annual whole body MRI. I watched the tumor grow in three months,” sighs Otero. “It seems to me that this is the countless example of consumerism. Medical tests are consumed in the same way as other unnecessary things are purchased. is a non-diagnostic social indicator.”
In most countries, full body MRI is used to discover distant metastases of some cancers and degenerative muscle degeneration, resulting in malignant lesions in the kidneys and pancreas. However, for a privileged class, the last frontier to win is control over health. These are people who worship a single god – technology – and ask him for the impossible: to prolong life, to free them from disease. And, ultimately, to end aging.
Cynthia Molina — a psychologist who practices at the Shaw Wellness Clinic — is familiar with powerful people who don’t manage disappointment well. The possibility of doing a thorough examination of the body from time to time is a kind of “candy” for one of our modern neuroses: taking tests to anticipate the inevitable (the day we will be sick). “The pathological thing wants to control the uncontrollable: when we’re going to die and what we’re going to die from.” She says a person with financial resources has the psychological profile to find it very difficult when a doctor tells them nothing can be done about their illness. “It’s hard for them to admit that once they’ve lost control.”
Dr. Alvarez says everyone is free to spend their money as they wish. Still, he wants people to remember that imaging tests have a specific purpose: to confirm or rule out a suspected diagnosis. He quotes a phrase: “He who does not know what he is looking for does not understand what he has found.”
“It is attributed to the French physiologist Claude Bernard,” the oncologist says with a smile. “It was the first thing that came to mind with this story.”
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