Right now, fewer than 30 percent of Americans who should be screened for colon cancer actually come in for screening. It’s a constant source of frustration for doctors.
“Colonoscopies prevent 90% of colon cancers. You know, if you get a colonoscopy, we see a polyp, take it out -90% of time you won’t get colon cancer,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Colonoscopy is recommended for people 50 and older, earlier if there’s a family history of disease. The procedure is intrusive. Performed under anesthesia, a flexible scope is fed through the rectum. It’s equipped with a camera and dissection tool. But there is another way to get a look inside.
“The virtual colonoscopy is basically where they put somebody thru a CT scanner,” says Dr. Gaw.
Virtual colonoscopies use a CT scanner, which generates a 3D image to screen for polyps. It is much less invasive and also much quicker, usually under one minute, far different than a standard colonoscopy.
“During a CT scan their colons are descended, they are filled with air. The patients are not sedated so after they get their CT scans their CT scans are reconstructed, basically like a stimulator fly-thru the colon to find polyps,” says Dr. Gaw.
Both screenings require intense preparation, using laxatives to cleanse the colon so doctors can see clearly. If something is found during the virtual approach, patients will go through it again.
“If there are polyps then that patient is sent to gastroenterologist, or to us for a real colonoscopy, to get the polyps out,” says Dr. Gaw.
But this high tech option is bringing more people to the table- including those who are at low risk.
“There’s a buzz about it because most of people who would have a colonoscopy, don’t have polyps. So they don’t need the whole coming into the hospital, being sedated or going to a surgery center to have the colonoscopy,” says Dr. Gaw.
The procedure is also well suited for those who are too weak for a traditional colonoscopy or don’t do well under sedation. The bottom line is getting more people to undergo this potentially life-saving screening.