A High Tech Option for Colon Cancer Screening
Stony Brook Medicine expert reminds patients about another method used to detect disease during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
STONY BROOK, NY, March 19, 2015 – Colonoscopies are one of those necessary screenings that people tend to put off — despite the fact that if detected early, colorectal cancers have extremely high survival rates. In recent years, an alternative to the traditional colonoscopy has emerged as an option for many patients – called virtual colonoscopy. Matthew Barish, MD, Associate Professor of Radiology, Division Co-Chief, Abdominal Imaging, and Director of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Stony Brook Medicine, talks about the benefits and risks of this high-tech screening device and how it could be life-saving.
Virtual colonoscopy (also known as CT colonoscopy or CTC) is a safe, highly accurate minimally invasive CT imaging examination of the entire colon and rectum. Stony Brook was one of the original pioneers in virtual colonoscopy. The software used to read virtual colonoscopy in the landmark research paper published in 2003 by New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) was invented at Stony Brook and continues to be used today. In fact, Dr. Barish was one of the contributors to this pioneering technology.
“It is a well-tolerated exam that takes about 10 minutes to complete,” says Dr. Barish. “The goal is the same as traditional colonoscopy— to identify polyps and cancers in the colon.” Polyps have been shown to be the precursor of most colon cancers, and the goal of virtual colonoscopy is to find these potentially dangerous polyps before they become actual cancers.
Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the US. And with regular screenings, colon cancer can be found early, when treatment options are most effective. In many cases, screening can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they even become a cancer.
While tradition colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screenings, there are many advantages of having a virtual colonoscopy done. “Traditional colonoscopy is most often performed with sedation, which requires each patient to have a chaperone following the procedure,” says Dr. Barish. “In addition, sedation is associated with additional risks and may be problematic in patients with lung disease, cardiac disease or prior reactions to sedation.” Virtual colonoscopy does not require any sedation. “Patients can drive themselves to and from the procedure and immediately return to work.”
“A traditional colonoscopy uses a long semi-rigid tube that must be pushed through the entire colon,” explains Dr. Barish. Like other medical procedures, there are risks and although rare, pushing of the tube can tear or rupture the colon or injure surrounding organs. Virtual colonoscopy is less invasive and only uses a small very flexible tube with only the tip inserted, which essentially eliminates the risk of colon perforation and complications. “At the end of the exam, the carbon dioxide used to distend the colon is decompressed, giving patients immediate relief,” explains Dr. Barish. “In addition, virtual colonoscopy involves minimal radiation exposure, thanks to the current scanners and techniques.”
Virtual colonoscopy is appropriate for all patients who are candidates for colon cancer screening. It is especially useful for patients at risk to undergo traditional colonoscopy or who have had a prior incomplete colonoscopy.
Greg Filiano Stony Brook University 631-444-9343