Virtual Colonoscopy- A Summary

In a blow to overanxious men of all heights, widths and personality types, researchers conclude that Virtual Colonoscopy (VC) is as effective as the more conventional procedure. The study was directed by Dr. Perry Pickhardt, of the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison, and evaluated over 1,100 adults. Colonoscopies are utilized to evaluate patients for colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates, for 2006, predict 148,610 new cases of colorectal cancer resulting in 55,170 deaths. While the death rate has been in decline for the past fifteen years, the sad truth is the majority of the deaths from colorectal cancer are preventable. That is, if appropriate diagnostic tests are performed.

A little background information is in order. Standard colonoscopies allow doctors to examine the large intestine utilizing a colonoscope. This device is a thin, flexible tube that utilizes a fiber optic camera to inspect the colon. This procedure allows for the detection, removal and cauterization of polyps and, though somewhat uncomfortable, is relatively quick and extremely effective. The resistance to the procedure has little to do with its medical efficacy and everything to do with the discomfort and embarrassment.

Preparation for a standard colonoscopy typically involves a lighter diet for a day or two prior to the procedure. No problem there. The rub comes with the next step. The day before the procedure the patient takes an industrial strength laxative and, fearing for their safety, warns his family to stay clear of all potential paths to the bathroom door. After a night spent in the bathroom, it’s off to the clinic, where the patient disrobes and offers up their posterior portions for the benefit of medical science. Why would there be any resistance to such a simple procedure?

The Virtual Colonoscopy may resolve the reticence felt by those who would most benefit by this screening. Men over the age of fifty are at greatest risk and, often, are the least inclined to pick up the phone and schedule this procedure. But, as this procedure becomes more commonplace, that may change. The VC, though still requiring some preparation, is a much more tolerable procedure than its predecessor.

A Virtual Colonoscopy is performed utilizing a standard imaging technique known as a CAT scan, computed tomography. CAT scans are typically used to visualize internal organs and structures, such as the brain, liver or spine, to assess the presence of tumors or the extent of injuries following a trauma. This same technology is now being utilized to visualize the colon.

The preparation for the VC is similar to that with the standard procedure, requiring a laxative prior to testing. The procedure itself, however, is much more akin to an x-ray. The patient lies on their back on an exam table, a small tube is inserted in the rectum and air is pumped into the colon. Once the colon is inflated, allowing for better visualization, the exam table moves through the large scanning device and the images are captured. A second pass, with the patient lying on their stomach, is also required. The process takes about ten to twenty minutes and, since no sedation is required, the patient is free to resume normal activities immediately after.

The CAT scan technology allows radiologists to assess computer-generated images of the patient’s colon. The images are very much like those seen during the standard procedure and, should the Virtual Colonoscopy detect an abnormality, a standard colonoscopy may be performed the same day.

While still not a trip to the ice cream shop, the Virtual Colonoscopy reduces the complications of this critical assessment to a manageable level. Anxious men will be forced to look elsewhere for the application of their tried and true excuses. On the upside, their good health secured, they’ll have many more years to fine-tune their finagling for all things involving sports, couches and potatoes.