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12/02/03

’Virtual’ Exam as Effective As Standard Colonoscopy

Tuesday, December 2, 2003; Page A01

A "virtual" colonoscopy, a high-tech computerized X-ray scan, can catch precancerous growths as reliably as conventional exams in which a long tube with a camera is snaked through the colon while the patient is under anesthesia, researchers reported yesterday.

The largest study to directly compare the two tests found that the new technique spots polyps, which can become cancerous, at least as well as colonoscopy, and perhaps better, indicating it would provide a powerful tool to reduce the toll from one of the top cancer killers.

"Colon cancer is a largely preventable disease — we just have to get people through the door to get screened," said Perry J. Pickhardt, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison, who tested the new approach. "This could help do that. It’s an exciting time. We could save countless lives."

Colon cancer strikes about 105,500 Americans each year and kills more than 57,000, making it the second leading cancer killer, after lung cancer. If caught early it is highly curable, so doctors recommend regular colonoscopies beginning at age 50.

Many people, however, avoid the procedure. Only about a third of people who should get a colonoscopy or some other kind of screening for colon cancer do so, and only about 37 percent of colon cancers are diagnosed before they have spread.

Virtual colonoscopy allows people to avoid the invasive exam, which has a small but dangerous risk of piercing the colon. People still have to go through the unpleasant task of purging their digestive systems the night before, but the virtual test requires no anesthesia or sedation. That means patients do not need to take additional time off work or have someone drive them home.

"There’s no recovery time. It doesn’t require intravenous sedation or analgesia. Patients can basically go back to work right after they have the virtual colonoscopy," Pickhardt said.

A virtual colonoscopy involves a CT scan of the abdominal area. CT, or computed tomography, uses special X-ray equipment to obtain a series of cross-sectional pictures of the inside of the body from different angles. A computer program assembles the images into what looks like a film, moving through the length


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