A few months ago I saw an article in TechCrunch about Ezra, a startup offering a full-body MRI to detect cancer. The costs are out-of-pocket and the options include a whole-body scan for $1950, a torso scan for $1350, and a prostate scan for $675. I went for it.
Why I did it
This service piqued my interest because I have known a number of people who died early from cancer — including my grandfather — and what struck me as odd about many of these people dying from cancer is how slowly they were diagnosed. These people could easily have afforded regular, wide-ranging tests to detect their cancer early but tests weren’t run. Investigative medical tests were’t run because we have systems in place to control the costs of the medical system. Controlling medical costs is logical for the public good but somewhat less logical for a financially comfortable individual who values their life.
I also chose to be tested because I have been having been suffering from upper back pain and haven’t felt particularly comforted by the amount of evidence requested by my primary care physicians-who believe sitting at a computer for 12 hours a day might be a factor in my back pain. So I signed up… I picked the $1350 option and booked it for the next time I was flying through New York City.
The scan experience
I was instructed not to drink fizzy water in the day prior to my scan (apparently bubbles can create shadows) — an instruction that seemed somewhat futile but also comforting in terms of the diagnostic imaging quality that Ezra was looking to achieve. I walked uptown to Lenox Hill Radiology (61 East 77th Street) a nondescript medical facility which is apparently part of the series of imaging centers that works with Ezra. The paperwork on arrival was minimal — I signed about two pieces of paper and was brought in for the scan within about 15 minutes of arriving. The radiologists were not part of Ezra, but they all seemed friendly and interested in the Ezra topic. I imagined that their cheerful attitude stemmed from the fact that it’s less depressing to scan wealthy hypochondriacs instead of terminal cancer patients.
After paperwork, the radiologists directed me to a booth to swap my clothing for a medical gown. I lay down in the MRI machine and stayed as still as possible. The scan was took about an hour. There were times where I was instructed to hold my breath in a pattern to get the clearest possible pictures of my lungs. I found the experience of being scanned relaxing, certainly less draining than conversing with a human doctor.
After the scan there was no check-out process but I waited around afterwards to get a DVD copy of my MRI information. I wasn’t sure I would be able to download a copy from Ezra since it’s still early-days for their customer-facing website. The DVD-creation process took over an hour because they captured such a large number of images.
The follow up
About two weeks later a doctor from Ezra scheduled a half-hour phone call. He seemed like a friendly guy. He informed me that I was dealing with mostly good news but that I might want to keep an eye on two particular discoveries; the scan showed two probable liver cysts and the start of a fatty liver. The liver cysts are something that I’ll want to keep an eye on and potentially get an ultrasound to make sure they aren’t real problems. The fatty liver is something that would likely be fixed by lifestyle changes.
I also took a look at my own images and found the image quality to be pretty good. With the right training, I’m sure I could get a solid read on a number of medical conditions. Ezra’s AI models are probably incomplete but I look forward to their models eventually being able to pull information from these images that the human eye couldn’t detect.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely, it’s about a week later now and I feel good about having gotten the Ezra scan for a number of reasons:
- I like having greater confidence that my nighttime back pain is not caused by kidney cancer
- I like knowing that if I get diagnosed with cancer now, there wasn’t anything I should have done diagnostically differently
- The fatty liver diagnosis is likely to prompt me to make some lifestyle changes
- I like having a baseline scan so that a future scan can have an easier time determining if something is a new & problematic
- Seeing pictures of my insides is pretty cool
- I like having been an early adopter of a new, more evidence-based system of medicine
Obviously paying $1350 for elective medical imaging isn’t for everyone but I am glad Ezra exists and I wish this had been around to do early cancer detection on my grandfather.