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What is a Virtual Colonoscopy?

In early 2016, the American Cancer Society estimated that there would be 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer, bringing the total new cases of colorectal cancer to 134,490. It is the third most common type of cancer for men and women in the United States. 

Early Detection

Screening for colorectal cancer is an excellent tool for early detection of polyps (pre-cancerous growths) and for diagnosing the condition. A full-fledged colonoscopy is an invasive procedure in which a doctor inserts a flexible tube with a camera at the end through the entire length of the colon while the patient is anesthetized. The camera lets the doctor examine the inside of the rectum and colon to detect abnormalities such as polyps. If polyps are found, the doctor removes them during the test.

A virtual colonoscopy is a less invasive procedure which does not require sedation or anesthesia. It gives the doctor a good view of the inside of the colon and can detect the presence of polyps or cancer.

Virtual Colonoscopy Demystified

A virtual colonoscopy is also known as a computerized tomography (CT) colonography. It is a screening which takes less time than a colonoscopy, and does not require the doctor to insert a tube through the entire length of your colon. Instead, a specially trained x-ray technician will insert a thin tube through your anus and into your rectum as you lie on a table. The purpose of the tube in this case is simply to inflate your colon with air to allow for a better view. The table slides into a the CT machine where the technician takes the x-rays.

Whether you have a colonoscopy or a virtual colonoscopy, you will still have to prepare by cleaning out your bowel with laxatives and other preparations prescribed by your doctor. The difference is, for a virtual colonoscopy, part of the preparation involves drinking a contrast medium the night before the test. A virtual colonoscopy usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes to perform.

Benefits of Virtual Colonoscopy

Some important benefits to a virtual colonoscopy include:

  • Identification: Virtual Colonoscopy can also visualize abnormalities and cancers in organs outside of the colon.
  • Road Map: Virtual Colonoscopy provides the surgeon with a precise “road-map” should any polyps need to be removed.
  • No sedation or IV is required.
  • Quick: The entire appointment only takes a few minutes and you can drive yourself home or back to work immediately afterward.
  • Easier Preparation.

Who Should Have the Test?

If you’re over 50, your doctor may recommend either a virtual colonoscopy or a standard colonoscopy. Either test may be ordered sooner if you’re considered at high risk for colorectal cancer based on family history or other health factors.

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in the U.S. for the past few decades, thanks largely to screening tests like virtual colonoscopy. That fact alone makes being tested a minor inconvenience with a hugely important payoff!

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