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A Colonoscopy Is Easier Thanks to Technology

Turning 50 seems to come with its own set of challenges, unlike any other age — be it mental, emotional or physical. It’s also when your doctor starts bothering you to get a colonoscopy, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

The colonoscopy used to be an unpleasant, but necessary procedure.  But thanks to new technology, this procedure is now much less invasive.  The “virtual colonoscopy” (or CT colonography) is an option for people who can’t or won’t to get a standard colonoscopy. Many doctors and insurers nationwide have embraced this exam.

The CT Colonoscopy Procedure

Like a regular colonoscopy, you’ll drink a laxative 24 hours before to the procedure.  But, unlike the traditional colonoscopy, which involves a long camera-tipped tube, the virtual exam inserts only about a two-inch soft tube that sends small puffs of gas to fill the colon so that a low-radiation dose computer-assisted CT or “CAT” scan can produce two- and three-dimensional views of the colon. The entire exam is very short.  You won’t be put to sleep, because the procedure only takes 15 to 20 minutes.  You can even go right back to daily activities.

“It’s very good in screening, and the patient’s downtime is less,” Dr. Guy Barat, a radiologist at Community Hospital in New Port Richey, Florida, told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview.

Traditionalist Disagree

Some diehard traditionalists opine that you still would need a traditional colonoscopy to remove anything found by a virtual colonoscopy. We disagree, because the vast majority of exams don’t find anything wrong.  Plus, a virtual test will dramatically increase screening rates. The virtual colonoscopy is an American Cancer Society-recommended screening exam. Even President Obama opted for a virtual colonoscopy over the standard test.

Experts say that the new technology can detect polyps the size of small blueberries, as well as cancer and other diseases. This is vital screening for the 140,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year.  It’s even more vital for the nearly 50,000 dead Americans who died due to late detection.

The FDA approved this exam back in 1995.  Major insurers, including Cigna, United Healthcare, Unicare, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield now cover their members for virtual colonoscopies. Finally, an easier way to screen for colon cancer.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) says the last obstacle to tackle is to somehow get Medicare to cover beneficiaries for this life-saving exam so that seniors can have the same screening alternative as those with private insurance.

Currently, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is examining virtual colonoscopies. A “passing” grade from the USPSTF could lead directly to Medicare coverage under the Affordable Care Act.