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'Virtual' Colonoscopy Safe, Effective for Medicare Patients: Study
Date:7/2/2012

MONDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- A new study of seniors provides support for using "virtual" colonoscopy -- which is not currently covered by Medicare -- as a screening tool for colon cancer.

Virtual colonoscopy, formally called CT colonography, uses CT scanning to take a noninvasive look at the colon, unlike invasive colonoscopy. The federal government has sought more data about the use of CT colonography before deciding on whether or not to cover its cost.

"Our study answers several of the questions Medicare asked about this procedure," study co-author Dr. Brooks Cash said in a news release from the American Roentgen Ray Society.

The study authors looked at more than 1,400 patients who received CT colonography and found that 14 percent of them would have been referred to get a colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy detected abnormal cells in 9.3 percent of patients who were older than 65, the researchers found. Cash said that rate is similar to those in younger patients.

The results suggest that virtual colonoscopy is "a viable option for Medicare-aged patients," said Cash.

According to Cash, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was concerned about the amount of radiation that patients might be exposed to during virtual colonoscopy. The average effective radiation dose turned out to be less than the average annual radiation exposure of American adults, he said.

Research has suggested that 40 percent of people who underwent virtual colonoscopy wouldn't have otherwise gotten screened for colon cancer if they hadn't been able to undergo the procedure.

"This is the real value of CT colonography -- offering an alternative, high-quality, total colonic preventative screening to a large percentage of the population that either refuses or is unable to undergo colonoscopy," Cash said.

CT colonography still requires that patients undergo the unpleasant process of cleansing their bow
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