Virtual colonoscopy, also known as CT Colonoscopy is a method for screening for colon cancer or colon polyps using a CAT scanner, which is a particular type of x-ray machine. So the process is usually performed in the radiology department of a hospital or outpatient imaging center.
Why Virtual Colonoscopy is Better.
Advantages At a Glance.
Well, it has several advantages. Here are the most important ones:
- Clinically proven to be effective for colon cancer screening.
- The scan takes a few seconds to complete. Entire process takes only about ten minutes. It’s way too faster.
- The process is safe.
- It does not require sedation like a conventional procedure.
- Lesser preparation steps makes it easier for the colonoscopy prep.
- It also has the advantage of viewing the entire colon. In regular procedure the doctor can’t maneuver the scope around the colon. But since this is a CAT scan, each part of the colon is visible. Even can cover other organs in the abdomen and pelvis at the same time. So it’s possible to diagnose unsuspected conditions outside of the colon.
- Cheaper than Regular colonoscopy.
Clinically Proven & Recommended.
There have several multi-institutional trials comparing with conventional procedure. They’ve shown that CT colonoscopy is comparable to a traditional one when we’re trying to detect precancerous polyps or cancer of one centimeter or bigger.
Polyps smaller than one centimeter sometimes can be a challenge to identify on virtual colonoscopy, but they do not have any cancerous cell. So when it’s about detecting lesions one centimeter or higher, it’s a similar sensitivity to the conventional procedure.
Due to this limitation Doctors recommend it only for average-risk patients. The American Cancer Society also suggests it for screening for colon polyps and colon cancer at the age of 50 if you’re an average risk patient. If you’re a high-risk patient you need to go through the conventional process. Patients considered as high-risk when below factors are correct.
You’re having symptoms like:
- An upset stomach or a minor infection can often cause changes in the bowels.
- Occasional cramps or bloating.
- Blood in the stool.
- Suddenly and unexpectedly losing weight.
- Shortness of breath.
- Constant fatigue or weakness.
- Feeling as though the bowels are not empty.
Or you have a family history, or other conditions, you may want to schedule a regular procedure because there’s a higher chance that you will have a polyp or cancer at that time. CT Colonoscopy is designed for average-risk patients above the age of 50 for screening; it’s not meant for a patient who has above symptoms.
Virtual Colonoscopy Prep: Way Too Easy.
To do a CT colonoscopy, you still need to have a bowel prep. So the day before the study, you have to have colon cleansing agents to clean the colon thoroughly. When you make your appointment, the coordinators will explain to you the prep that you need to do before you come for your test.
Some hospitals mail out a small kit to you with the instructions and everything you need, including a prescription for a bowel cleansing agent. So at home, the day before, you’ll take these bowel cleansing agents to make sure your colon is clean.
Faster Process – Faster Recovery.
Once you arrive in the radiology department, you move to the CAT scanning room, where you’ll meet the radiologist. The doctor will put a small tube in the rectum, and then a pump is used to distend the colon with carbon dioxide. As the colon gets distended, then CT examination starts. The doctor repeats the process for at least two times to ensure the diagnosis is correct. Afterward, you get up and go to the washroom, get dressed. By the time you should be feeling back to normal.
The entire exam takes about ten minutes, and the scanning only takes a few seconds. And then you are okay going back to work.
No Sedation Required.
It’s not only a reliable process for colon cancer screening. Also the patient compliance is very high due to the fact that there’s no sedation required. Conventional colonoscopy requires that the patient to be sedated, which means they need IV medication. And, they need continuous monitoring before and after the study. It’s also safe for older patients with heart and lung disease, who would have a higher risk of being sedated.
No Sedation is one of the reasons for recommending to patients above 50 years.
Cheaper Than Conventional Procedure.
Virtual colonoscopy is less expensive than a regular one because it require lesser time, no hospitalization, less impact on health. It doesn’t require sedation and monitoring. With a conventional procedure, you’re going to be getting IV medication, and hospital stay may be necessary until you feel conscious enough to go back home. It makes overall process expensive, especially if an anesthesiologist is involved.
Also, with a regular process, you wouldn’t be able to drive home or go to work because of the sedation. With CT colonoscopy, you eliminate the need for sedation, and you don’t need somebody to drive you home. After a few minutes, you’ll feel back to norm
Frequently Asked Questions.
Is Virtual Colonoscopy Painful?
During the study, when the doctor distends the colon, the patient is uncomfortable, and they feel gassy. It happens because of the gas inside the colon. But it shouldn’t be painful. If you feel pain, you need to let the radiologist know because it may be that you have an obstruction there.
The pump is susceptible, and if there’s a blockage, the pump will stop adding the air. So it’s a very safe procedure in that regard also. You may feel uncomfortable, and you may feel gassy, but you should not feel pain. And you need not worry.
What about Virtual Colonoscopy Radiation?
Since it is performed with a CT scanner, it is a type of x-ray so that, there is some radiation involved. The amount of radiation you would get depends on many factors, including patient size, the type of scanner, and kind of protocols used.
With the low dose protocols, it should be less radiation than a person would get with a background of radiation over a year in the environment. So it’s a very low dose, and it’s safe. And also remember, virtual colonoscopy is designed for patients over the age of 50, and not recommended for young children or pre-menopausal patients.
Risks and Limitations.
Virtual colonoscopy has some risk of limitation. First is, of course, there is a small amount of radiation, which we’ve discussed above. If you are sensitive to any radiation you must your doctor in advance.
Risk of Perforation.
Besides that, there is a little risk of perforation. It means a small tear in the colon that can occur when we distend the colon. The chance of perforating the colon is very – very small in a CT colonoscopy, especially compared to conventional process. Use of advanced pump to distend the colon, which automatically shuts off with high air load can significantly reduce the risk.
Not Possible to Remove Polyp, if any.
Another limitation of virtual colonoscopy is; it’s a virtual camera. We’re not actually inside the colon, so if we find a polyp, we can’t remove it. If there is any polyp one centimeter or higher, you may go through a regular procedure to have the polyp removed.
But you have to remember, most patients who are healthy over the age of 50, won’t have a polyp of that size. It’s unlikely we’re going to find something significant that would require a conventional colonoscopy.
Does Health Insurance Covers the Expense?
Whether or not your insurance covers it, depends on what state you live. You’ll have to check. In some states, the insurance will cover it for screening. In some states, they will only cover it if you’ve had a failed procedure or can’t have a regular colonoscopy for any reason or maybe you have a bleeding disorder, or you’re on certain medications. You need to talk to the insurance provider beforehand.