Virtual colonoscopy -- a screening method for colorectal cancer that's a noninvasive alternative to the traditional colonoscopy -- is becoming more common in U.S. hospitals.
A virtual colonoscopy requires the same preparation to empty the bowels as a standard colonoscopy, but instead of inserting a viewing tube into the colon and rectum, a CT scan of the abdomen is done to obtain two- and three-dimensional images of the intestines. Because the test will cause only minor discomfort, sedation is not needed
In a recent study reported in the Journal of the American College of Radiology(Volume 8, page 169), researchers looked at American Hospital Association surveys from 2005 to 2008 that asked whether hospitals provided virtual colonoscopy, also called computed tomographic colonography, or CTC.
They found that between 2005 and 2008, the number of hospitals offering this approach rose from 13 to 17 percent. In 2008, most hospitals (69 percent) that offered CTC also offered traditional colonoscopy. Some hospital representatives said that they adopted the CTC approach to offer an alternative for frail older patients or to address long waiting times for colonoscopy.
Virtual colonoscopy does have drawbacks: Patients still have to clean out their colon before screening, which can be uncomfortable; patients are exposed to radiation during the procedure; and the provider can't use the approach to remove any growths. Also, in 2009, Medicare rules stated that the program wouldn't cover CTC for general screening, though it would be covered in specific situations.