One day this Fall, I fasted for four hours and headed west on the subway to Prenuvo’s New York City location nestled next to a Five Guys and AMC theater steps away from Penn Station. If you weren’t looking for the sign, you could easily miss it amid the chaos of 34th Street.
My typical Thursday routine was out the window because I had committed to a full-body MRI, ready to join the ranks of celebrities and influencers who have gotten on the Prenuvo bandwagon. Prenuvo, whose ethos centers on preventive care, offers customers three MRIs: A torso scan, a head-and-torso scan, or a full-body scan. The company uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan for early signs of disease and doesn’t use ionizing radiation or contrast dyes.
Founded in 2018 in Vancouver, Prenuvo opened in New York City in April 2023 as part of a massive nationwide expansion following $70 million in series A seed funding. 23andMe cofounder Anne Wojcicki and actress Cindy Crawford are among the elites who have invested in the company. Kim Kardashian also took the scan and received over 3.5 million likes on a post about her experience, calling it a “life saving machine.”
At a health care conference in October, I met the company’s CEO Andrew Lacy, who said the demand for the scan has been soaring—evident in the bi-coastal expansion in the U.S. Clinics are opening across North America, and the slots are filling up quickly, Erica Ferreira, a senior MRI technologist at Prenuvo, tells me on-site.
“Some people are just really excited about the preventative approach, and they want to take their health into their own hands. They might have a high family history of cancer and want to check out if they’re predisposed,” Ferreira says, touting its ability to detect tumors one centerimer or larger, aneurysms that have not ruptured yet, and hundreds of conditions. “Or they’re just getting older, and they want a baseline to be able to compare if something were to go wrong in the future.”
The 60-minute, $2,500 full-body scan I underwent is the most comprehensive option.
When I entered the building, the team greeted me and the technician talked me through the process. I changed into scrubs, and removed all my jewelry and watch, as any metal would become projectile if accidentally brought into the scan room. I headed into the technologist’s room to put on the headphones and get prepped for the scan (waving to our Fortune video producer as I rolled in, hello Ted).
I have never had an MRI, so I was nervous about feeling claustrophobic. Luckily, though, the scan opened at the front and back, so I immediately felt calmer. I was comforted by the technologists telling me it is a bit more spacious than a typical MRI. The radiologists behind the glass would watch a handful of monitors. In full transparency, I didn’t mind the time passing, staying motionless and holding my breath when instructed through the loud noises, especially since I was watching the entire first episode of the David Beckham documentary.
After an hour, I said goodbye to the staff, grabbed a snack, and headed home. While I knew I was undergoing the scan for work purposes, there was part of me anxiously awaiting the results, fearful of what I may find.
Did I want to know what was there?
Less than a week later, I received a phone call that my results were ready and headed into my account to print them out. The lengthy file’s findings began at the head and brain and went down the body. Most of the sections were marked in green with “no adverse findings.” A few were marked as “informational findings” in blue, which indicated normal anatomical variants such as having dense breast tissue. In this case, it may be helpful to know as mammograms miss one in eight breast cancers. People with dense breast tissue are recommended to get an MRI during routine checks. However, another example of an informational finding was in my heart section, which indicated a “slight leftward displacement”—but with an indication that there is no needed follow-up if asymptomatic.
The report outlined sections that “required minor attention” in yellow. Prenuvo offers patients a 15-minute consultation with a nurse practitioner, and you can also send your results to an outside doctor. During my consultation, I went over some of the “minor attention” sections, such as the minor fluid buildup in my left nostril (I was going through a cold, which explained it) and a central disc herniation in my lumbar spine (Doctors told me this is a normal variation, and no action is needed if asymptomatic other than working on posture to care for the spine). If someone had an urgent finding, they would likely take their scan to an outside physician and discuss the next steps.
The full-body MRI controversy
When sharing my scan with Dr. Matthew Davenport, the William Martel Collegiate professor of radiology and service chief and vice chair in the Department of Radiology at Michigan Medicine, he assured me my scan was completely normal for someone my age. Davenport, who is not affiliated with Prenuvo and does not have a doctor-patient relationship with me, shared his concern that outlining specific anatomical variations as findings can cause unnecessary psychological stress for people.
“Knowing is not always to your advantage if what you learn doesn’t have a clear pathway. Sometimes when you learn a piece of information, you can be misdirected as to the importance of it,” he tells Fortune, adding that further testing, appointments, and procedures down the line may lead to more harm than good. “You can learn something about yourself, but it can actually increase your uncertainty.”
In his own practice, Davenport says 20% to 40% of cross-sectional imaging studies like MRIs and CT scans have an incidental finding. He imagines that a host of people taking routine preventative scans may go to lengths to address something that is still “in the spectrum of normal,” he says. “Those incidental findings are 500 to one or 1,000 to one unimportant, but we ended up doing stuff with them because we don’t know what to do. We want to manage that uncertainty.”
Prenuvo includes disclaimers at the top of their results page, indicating what the MRI does not replace, including routine breast cancer screenings, colonoscopies, and pap smears. Still, Davenport fears that people may assume they don’t need other follow ups.
“There is the potential for someone to get a result, have it be totally clean and say, ‘I can now disengage from normal recommended screening protocols,’” he says. “That’s a significant concern of mine.”
He also says it’s rare to discover an aggressive or harmful finding during a full-body MRI when no symptoms are present. A 2019 analysis of 12 studies spanning over 5,000 asymptotic people, published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, found that incidental and indeterminate findings were common for asymptomatic people undergoing full-body MRIs. The analysis of six studies found a 16% prevalence of false positive findings.
“There’s a much smaller proportion of aggressive diseases, which are the ones we’re trying to find, but we’re lost in the haystack of all the other stuff,” Davenport says. “It’s common for the aggressive ones to grow quickly, so we’d have to catch the screenable interval exactly right.”
The American College of Radiology issued a statement on full body MRIs in April, stating, “To date, there is no documented evidence that total body screening is cost-efficient or effective in prolonging life.” The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force routinely updates their recommendations for screenings.
However, for Ferreira and her team, even minor findings or anatomical variants may reassure patients that they are okay. “Knowledge is power,” she tells Fortune. “In the future, if something was kind of bothering them, they’ll at least know they had this before, so that might not be the root cause of their problem now.”
Is the future about prevention?
Ferreria and her team hope Prenuvo becomes a part of people’s routine health plan.
“I think eventually where we want to go is how you go to the dentist. You get a checkup. You go to your physician. You get a physical. You go for your Prenuvo scan every so often just ensuring that everything is working properly in the body,” Ferreira says.
But, of course, there’s also the cost. Prenvuo, which encourages people to consider taking the MRI routinely, tells me they aim to make their services more accessible such as working with employers to offer this as a benefit. However, as it stands, the full-body scan is available for those who are willing to shell out over $2,000.
So, would I do it again? Probably not—because of the cost and maybe because I’m in my mid-20s and feel generally healthy. I learned things about my body and anatomy, but it’s unclear how necessary it all is. I’d consider it down the road in a decade or two when more long-term evidence about their effectiveness is available. I see the potential benefits and drawbacks, but aim to stick with the routine tests recommended to me by my doctor.
Peter Diamandis, renowned entrepreneur and founder of the XPRIZE on longevity medicine, says there are so many mysteries in our body. To have more knowledge about our health is undoubtedly a human desire and instinct. Even then, medicine is full of variability far greater than we realize and specialists often disagree about proper interventions. As it stands, full-body MRIs are not recommended because of limited evidence that their benefits outweigh the undue additional risks and harms such as psychological harm and more unanswered questions, never mind the cost.
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