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Virtual Colonoscopy Still Has Its Skeptics
Date:9/12/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Whether the most technologically advanced way to check for colon cancer will become the standard screening method of the future does not appear to be a slam-dunk.

The method, known as virtual colonoscopy, combines X-ray and computer technology to create three-dimensional views of the full length of the colon, the large intestine. It allows doctors to look for polyps, or pre-cancerous growths, or other signs of cancer or other intestinal disease. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, virtual colonoscopy can be done with computed tomography (called a CT or CAT scan) or with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Colon cancer is one of the few types of preventable cancer, with doctors able to find and remove pre-cancerous polyps in the colon before cancer can develop. The current "gold standard" procedure for colon cancer screening, however, is colonoscopy, a time-consuming procedure for which preparation is unpleasant and sedation is necessary.

Perhaps because of this, only half of all people older than 50 have gotten this potentially life-saving test for colon cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors who tout the virtual form of colonoscopy argue that it takes less time and does not require sedation and is a more comfortable procedure for those having it.

Yet others contend that its drawbacks far outweigh its benefits.

"It's a test that has a tremendous number of questions still yet to be answered," said Dr. David A. Johnson, chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, past president of the American College of Gastroenterology and co-author of the group's guidelines for colon cancer screening.

Virtual colonoscopy, however, has advanced far enough that it's now recommended as a frontline screening test by the American Cancer Society and as an altern
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