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Monday, December 22, 2014

Will Virtual Colonoscopy Soon Replace the Conventional Screening for Colon Cancer

Posted by William on February 16, 2012

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It is largely a preventable disease if it is caught in the very early, precancerous stages. Thus, any potential improvement in screening for this disease is worthy of a great deal of attention.

¬†While most physicians urge patients to begin regular colon cancer screening after age 50 (earlier if there is a family history or other unique set of circumstances), surveys indicate that many patients are resistant to screening methods — perhaps out of embarrassment or fear of the procedures.

The ideal form of colorectal screening would be safe and acceptable to the patient — and it would offer high diagnostic accuracy at a cost that just about everyone could afford.

The current “gold standard” for colon-cancer screening is the colonoscopic exam. This involves a flexible tube a specially trained physician uses both to examine nearly the entire colon and, if polyps are detected, to remove them in the same process.

Many Americans reject the colonoscopic example because they dislike the preparation (cleansing of the bowel), are afraid of an intrusive procedure they think will be painful, and do not want to assume the cost — which can approach $750.

Thus, the recent publicity about the so-called virtual colonoscopy has drawn the attention of many, both physicians and their patients. Virtual colonoscopy is a promising new imaging method that uses computer-based technology capable of showing images of the whole colon.

This new technology is indeed exciting — and it is particularly impressive how it has developed in just the past few years. Ultimately it may make a significant contribution to colon-cancer screening programs if it can screen large numbers of people at relatively little cost.

Alas, the procedure needs further refining before it is introduced into general use, as the virtual procedure, unlike traditional colonoscopic exams, does not necessarily identify relatively small cancerous or precancerous growths in the colon.

Further, even if the virtual version is perfected to be more sensitive in identifying tumors, patients must be realistic in accepting the fact that this advance in technology will still require the pre-exam bowel preparation, may be accompanied by some discomfort of its own (the colon is inflated with air to allow examination), and, if polyps are identified, a follow-up colonoscopic examination — with its own pre-exam preparation — will likely be necessary.

For those who have undergone traditional colonoscopic exams with slight sedation and realize how painless and effortless this procedure is, the virtual colonoscopic alternative may not be seen as preferable.

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