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Research Highlight | 18 September 2020

Taking a whole-body approach to cancer screening

Whole-body screens that include positron-emission tomography can identify cancers that may otherwise go undetected

Annual whole-body cancer screening that uses positron-emission tomography (PET) can reduce cancer deaths, as well as deaths by other causes, a 10-year study involving TRI researchers suggests1. This result indicates that PET scans could become a standard part of whole-body screening programs.

Early detection of cancer can make the difference between life and death. Many workers in Japan are checked for various cancers during the annual health check-ups paid for by their companies. But since these test for cancers in specific organs, many cancers go undetected. Whole-body cancer screening aims to overcome this limitation by scanning the entire body for cancer.

PET that uses the tracer [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) can be used to perform whole-body imaging to find tumors. Because tumors grow faster than healthy tissue, they consume more glucose, and thus tumors can be detected by finding areas with abnormally high concentrations of FDG.

While whole-body FDG-PET scans are becoming more popular in health checks, few studies have evaluated the long-term effectiveness of this expensive technology to reveal cancers.

Now, Sadahiko Nishizawa of Hamamatsu Medical Photonics Foundation and co-workers have conducted a 10-year study in which they performed whole-body cancer screening that included FDG-PET on nearly 1,200 healthy employees of Hamamatsu Photonics over six years (2003−2009) and then monitored them for a further four years (2009−2013).

They found a high incidence of cancer compared to the general population — most likely due to the extensive screening — but a low number of deaths by cancer and other causes over the 10 years.

“Our results suggest that whole-body screening can reduce not only cancer mortality but also all-cause mortality, and thus provide support for its use in annual health checks,” says Nishizawa.

The researchers note that cancer detection by PET alone was limited, indicating that it needs to be supplemented by other methods such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.

The impetus for this research came when a former CEO of Hamamatsu Photonics, Teruo Hiruma, became concerned by the deaths of several company employees due to cancer. “He decided to establish a new imaging center that was equipped with the latest imaging modalities, including PET, with the aim of saving employee lives through the early detection of cancer,” says Nishizawa.

The team is continuing to collect data. They completed a second phase of this research that involved a biannual whole-body cancer screening program in October 2019 and commenced a third phase a month later.


  1.  Nishizawa, S., Kojima, S., Okada, H., Shinke, T., Torizuka, T., Teramukai, S. & Fukushima, M. Ten-year prospective evaluation of whole-body cancer screening with multiple modalities including [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography in a healthy population. Annals of Nuclear Medicine 34, 358–368 (2020).| article

About the Researcher

Sadahiko Nishizawa, Director of Hamamatsu Medical Imaging Center, Hamamatsu Medical Photonics Foundation

Dr. Sadahiko Nishizawa received training and worked as a radiologist and a nuclear medicine physician at Kyoto University Hospital and Tenri Hospital (1981−1991). He was involved in studies looking at quantitatively measuring the dynamics of PET tracers used in neurology at Kyoto University Hospital, Montreal Neurological Institute, and Biomedical Imaging Research Center, University of Fukui (1991−2002). In 2003, he moved to Hamamatsu Medical Imaging Center, which was established to realize a society that enjoyed healthy longevity through the early detection of cancer and dementia. His current research interest is to explore further how whole-body screening that includes PET can contribute towards this goal.

Hamamatsu Medical Photonics Foundation

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