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Health A-Z

Health checks: Advisable before a long trip?

My wife and I are planning a round-the-world trip. Before setting off we want to have a thorough health check, as we will be travelling in remote areas where medical help may not be easily available. A friend has suggested that we begin our trip in America with a whole-body scan. Would it be a sensible precaution?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

A simple scan that can detect hidden disease sounds amazingly attractive. If the scan is painless, harmless and not too expensive, so much the better. But life is not that simple, and no scanner is able to guarantee that your trip will be illness-free. If you are young and healthy, the chance that a scanner will find something serious is very small indeed. In fact, a scan done on a young healthy person is more likely to cause harm.If you have a CT scan, you are exposing yourself to X-rays. Then there is the problem of what to do if the scan picks up something that requires further investigation. Plenty of us have tiny cysts within the organs of our bodies that we are unaware of. If left alone, they will do no harm. But if the CT scanner spots something small, you will be obliged to have a further test (which may turn out to be an operation) to find out what it is. And it is most likely to turn out to be nothing at all.I think you would be much better off spending money on a good travel-insurance policy that will pay for your medical care and fly you home if you get seriously ill. If you do decide to go ahead, expect to pay $1,000-$2,000 per scan.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.