New research on the virtual approach to colon cancer screening is due out this month. It's expected to show how virtual colonoscopy compares to the traditional test in catching the polyps that lead to cancer.
It's information doctors are looking forward to as they weigh how to incorporate the virtual into the real world. The thought of a traditional optical colonoscopy makes many people cringe. That's why the virtual option sounds so appealing.
Dr. Brent Roeder, a gastroenterologist with Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Health Center, says virtual colonscopy is a CT-based tets in which images of the colon are generated by a CT scanner and the images are evaluated to look for the presence of polyps. In traditional optical colonoscopy, a scope is inserted into the rectum while the patient is sedated to look for polyps.
Dr. Roeder says the virtual test does have drawbacks. For one, research continues on how good it is at catching smaller polyps. Polyps are what can grow into colon cancers. Dr. Roeder says the majority of them don't become cancer, but since you don't know which ones will, you have to take care of all of them.
With a traditional colonoscopy, polyps can be removed right away. With virtual, you need to go back for a traditional colonoscopy. No matter which you choose, both tests involve the same prep to clean out the colon. That's why, as it decides whether to offer the virtual screening, Cotton-O'Neil is also weighing how to be able to do the polyp removal on the same day. Dr. Roeder says anyone who goes through the prep once doesn't want to do it again in a couple of days or weeks, so it would not be an ideal approach to offer the virtual and find polyps and then have to wait to have them addressed.
OIne other issue is that most insurance does not cover virtual colonoscopy, but does cover traditional colonoscopy. It's expected Medicare will use the new research in reevaluating that postion.
The ultimate goal, though, is to have more people get screened, and Dr. Roeder says if the virtual test is what gets someone to the doctor, he supports it.
Learn more about colon cancer at the American Cancer Society's web site, www.cancer.org.