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Study Validates Virtual Colonoscopy for Colon Cancer Screening

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Thursday, September 18, 2008 12:29 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA & Prescription Drugs, Colon Cancer, Virtual Colonoscopy, CT Colonography


IMAGE SOURCE: © Wikimedia Commons/ Colorectal anatomy/ author: U.S.Govt/ National Cancer Institute

Computed tomographic (CT) colonography, also known as virtual colonoscopy, has been shown to have a high accuracy in detecting precancerous and cancerous polyps and could serve as a primary screening option for colorectal cancer.

A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, validates the widespread use of virtual colonoscopy.

The largest study to date to endorse the accuracy of the technology, involved 150 participants and 2,600 volunteers nationwide – at 15 community and academic medical centers.

Participants underwent a virtual colonoscopy followed by a standard colonoscopy. Researchers found the virtual colonoscopy comparable in accuracy and highly accurate in detecting 90 percent of of polyps 10 millimeters or more in diameter.

Traditional colonoscopy, however, is able to better detect smaller sized polyps. As the size of the polyps gets smaller, so does the ability of the virtual colonoscopy to detect them.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States – claiming 52,000 lives each year. Colonoscopy is the authoritative test for colon cancer prevention and screening.

“We are hopeful that this less-invasive screening option will motivate more of the 70 million Americans at risk for cancer to get screened, which would result in fewer deaths from colon cancer,” said Dr. Peter Zimmerman, principal researcher for the UCLA study site.

Traditional Colonoscopy vs. Virtual Colonoscopy

Traditional colonoscopies are performed by gastroenterologists using a flexible tube that is passed through the bowel. A device on the end of the tube can remove polyps for testing right then and there.

But with virtual colonoscopy, sedation is not required so patients are quickly able to return to their normal activities, the costs are significantly lower than a traditional colonoscopy and there is less risk of a punctured bowel during the procedure.

Both procedures require the patient to drink a laxative – a common complaint among a majority of patients. However, if lesions are detected during a virtual colonoscopy, the patient will need a traditional procedure to have them removed.

There are some downsides to virtual colonoscopy – the procedure requires inflating of the bowel with carbon dioxide while the patient is in the scanner, which can be uncomfortable. And lastly, CT scans emit radiation, although it is difficult to measure exactly how much radiation people may get from virtual colonoscopy procedures.

The study, “Accuracy of CT Colonography for Detection of Large Adenomas and Cancers,” is published in the September 18 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. #

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