Cancer danger years: The ages of 40 to 70 are the danger years for many life-threatening diseases, in particular cancer. So how can you reduce the risk to you and your loved ones? You could catch the disease before you even have symptoms by getting a regular whole-body MRI. Dr Zane Sherif explains why this service is so vital.
Myself and my wife Dr Kirralee Sherif (PhD) founded Mermaid Beach Radiology so patients have the power to be proactive about their health, rather than reactive. Getting a whole-body MRI at the right time can mean the difference between life and death. We just had a male patient who was otherwise well, who came in to see us for a general health and wellbeing scan. Himself and his wife just wanted to get checked out, just to stay on top of their health. They said to me, “We service our cars once a year, why wouldn’t we service ourselves?”
FULL BODY SCAN
They had a full-body MRI scan. No abnormal pathology was found on his wife. But unfortunately, the chap had lung cancer. While this sounds like a total disaster, the disease was caught in its very early stages. He felt great and he was completely asymptomatic. The chap wasn’t coughing. He didn’t have any weight loss. This situation is what we call ‘pre-clinical.’ And this is exactly what a general check with a whole-body MRI is designed for. If he left this health situation until he was symptomatic, he could have had an entirely different outcome. A lot of the time, when you’ve got cancer, you don’t get diagnosed until symptoms like weight loss and other problems become obvious. Often at that point, it can be too late.
Back to our lung cancer patient. Luckily, the cancer was in the very early stages, and was sitting in the middle of his lungs. If he’d left it a few more months, then the tentacles of that cancer could have wrapped themselves around critical vessels, and then it would be inoperable. But, because he chose to be proactive with his health and get our whole-body MRI scan, it was caught very early. From this point, he has many options to treat the cancer. Three months or six months down the track, he may not have had those options. Imagine hearing the words “I’m sorry, sir, it’s inoperable. Chemotherapy might extend your life for six months. ”But if we catch the disease this early on, you may have plenty of options, which could be curative ones at that.
Now, his prognosis is excellent. He’s going to survive this, and likely be cured from it. It was an isolated lung cancer. And again, it was in the middle of his lung, so it wasn’t touching any vessels, and could easily be removed by surgery.
When he was in hospital, he had a PET scan (an imaging test that allows your doctor to check for diseases in your body. The scan uses a special dye containing radioactive tracers.) His oncologist was unfamiliar with our full-body MRI screening.
When we did his whole-body MRI, we saw that there was no cancer anywhere else. His specialist sent him on for a PET scan. The PET scan came back and showed exactly what the full body MRI scan did – there was a solitary lesion with no metastasis, great correlation.
GET A SECOND OPINION
It’s always great to get a second opinion. We are the people to see if you want a second opinion! So, from our point of view, it was good that he got a PET scan. However, it didn’t offer any additional information and he has paid a bit of a radiation cost for that. Whereas the whole- body MRI does not use radiation. It uses magnets to create an image.
Our patient was a smoker. He says he smoked about five a day. Not anymore! He is in his seventies. So the cumulative effect of smoking, even small amounts of cigarettes does creep up on you! This is the perfect person to have a full-body MRI. But there are other people who live very healthy lives, and they still get afflictions like cancer, so regular non-radiation-based scanning is a great option to help get an early diagnosis.
WHY QUALITY MATTERS
We designed Mermaid Beach Radiology to be small and fabulous. We want to offer the most personalised service on the best imaging equipment science has to offer. Our fleet includes Australia’s only Spectral CT scanner in private practice and the extraordinary research grade Philips Elition X 3T MRI scanner.
A full-body MRI scan using equipment on the very cutting-edge of technology is a great tool to help stay ahead of many catastrophic health issues such as cancer. If you’re relatively well, as in you have no real symptoms, but there’s a strong family history of “badness” in your family, then get that scan. It gives a level of peace of mind. And, it can detect cancer in its early stages and deep pockets of infection. It can show a lot of other things as well, but its primary utility is cancer screening. It’s very accurate.
FULL BODY SCREENING
Full body MRI screening is common in the US. They have many private clinics where you can just turn up and get a yearly scan. We need to start doing that here in Australia. In Europe, Japan and the US, MRI is used to validate with PET and real time imaging during chemotherapy to determine if drugs are working without imposing the radiation that these other scans do.
Even if you are well, it is still a good idea to get the full-body MRI scan. If you already have a disease process going on, we can look at the burden of disease. We can monitor that burden as it gets better, or if it gets worse, or if it’s responding to treatment, or if it’s not. Adjustments in that treatment can follow.
CANCER: BEING PROACTIVE
I am a strong believer in proactive health checks. No one will mourn the loss of your motor vehicle.
Whereas there are plenty of people who will mourn the loss of your life if you stop existing. Your kids, your family, your friends, your business partners. Your health is your most valuable asset. You are no good to anyone, impaired, impaled, or dead. So, it’s really about prolonging your life and this is your responsibility, especially if you have kids or other people you look after. Your life is really only partly yours – and mostly your family’s life. I exist pretty much at this stage for my kids. So, my health is of paramount importance to me, because I can’t help anyone if I’m not around. So, why would you get a full-body MRI on a regular basis? You would get it done because you value your health above all else.
WHAT IS THE DOWNSIDE?
There is no major downside to looking after yourself in this way. There’s no radiation. The only downside to this is an hour and a half to two hours of your time and a little bit of money. But from as little as $1500 now, you could save tens of thousands of dollars in treatment down the track for something that could have been caught earlier and more importantly saved you a tonne of misery. It is money well spent.
The reason why people come to us at Mermaid Beach Radiology is not just that we use a three- tesla (3T) research grade scanner, but because the sequences we run are custom written, research enhanced and not commercially available. In America, they often do this scan on a 1.5 T MRI. So we are well ahead of the game here. But also, we have Ben Kennedy on staff. He’s our MRI and Clinical Research Director. He has a master’s degree in MRI from the University of Queensland and he is coding the machines here to do stuff that no one else in the world is doing right now. We have plenty of world-firsts at this clinic because of the machines we use, and the work Ben is doing with them. And, you can’t get this coding anywhere else. This is all highly customised, and it’s all research enhanced.
CANCER: WHY YOU, WHY NOW
After age 40 is the right time to start getting regular full-body MRI scans done. Other than childhood cancers, the cancer frequency for people age 20 to 40 is much less than older people. This is because a lot of cancers are from a lifelong toxin exposure. It’s not just one thing that usually causes cancer. It’s a multitude of things. But by the time you’re 40, you’ve had enough exposure to all of this to create the perfect storm. One cigarette doesn’t kill you. But it’s a lifelong exposure to cigarette smoke, to general pollution, chemicals in food, and in the air we breathe. The body is pretty tough and robust, but the peak of cancer starts to show its head by about the age of 40. Of course, there are younger ones, but they tend to be rarer.
There are other things we look for, outside of cancer. Recently a person came in for a full-body MRI scan. We didn’t find any cancer. But we found a large hiatus hernia on her (when your stomach bulges up into your chest through an opening in your diaphragm). So, there’s frequently other incidental pathology that we’ll find. She then said that she wondered why she had a problem with belching and bad breath! Now she knows!
Medicare – as wonderful as it is – has its limitations. If you want to be at the forefront of diagnosis, it is sometimes a user-pays model. But the beauty of this and with MRI in general, is that because you’re paying for it, you don’t need a referral, which is empowering. You can be ahead of the health curve by spending a little bit of money.
If you ever feel like you’re being blocked or not heard, you can say right, stuff it, I’m going to go and get a full-body MRI scan. And then I’ll come back to you with what the MRI finds. Very empowering stuff.
CANCER: TRUST YOURSELF
Keep in mind that no one knows your body better than you. You are hardwired to every part of your body. So, when you go to a doctor and you say, ‘this is how I am feeling’ and they say, ‘oh, it’s probably nothing’ – you don’t have to be satisfied with that answer. You can take matters into your own hands. You can drive your own health. The only cost to you is time and money. There’s no radiation or biological cost.
The cost we charge covers a large body of work. It takes about 90 to 120 minutes to acquire the data. It is another 90 minutes to put it all together. And it takes me about the guts of an hour to report it. There’s a tonne of data to sift through. So, it’s a massive body of work. Plus these machines cost millions of dollars, and you are getting access to them and the cutting-edge of diagnostics. So if you look at it as a value proposition, you are getting a great deal.
You don’t have to do much to prepare for these scans. You just have to turn up. Because you are going to be on the scanner for 90 minutes, we would just discourage lots of drinking of water or caffeine. You don’t want to fight the urge to go to the bathroom in the middle of the scan!
All you need to know is that you have to put your health first – nothing is more important.
Phone: 07 5619 9499
Store 2469 Gold Coast Hwy, Mermaid Beach
Editor for Silver Magazine Gold Coast