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Virtual Colonoscopy: Safer For Seniors

January 27, 2010
Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States, claiming nearly 50,000 lives each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that 20,000 deaths could be prevented with more widespread screening. Yet the vast majority of those 50 and older who should be screened for the disease are not being tested, possibly due to the cost, inconvenience and safety concerns associated with current screening exams. The more invasive nature of optical colonoscopy can present even more concerns for older, frailer patients. A new study, published in the February issue of Radiology, examines the viability of computed tomographic colonography (CTC), so-called “virtual colonoscopy,” for screening older patients. CTC uses virtual reality technology to produce a three-dimensional visualization for a minimally invasive evaluation of the entire colon and rectum. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health analyzed various CTC performance and program outcome measures for screening individuals ages 65 to 79 to evaluate the procedure’s safety. "The results confirm that CTC is a safe and effective colorectal cancer screening tool for the older individual. There is no significant difference in the way CTC performs in older patients as opposed to younger patients," said David H. Kim, MD, associate professor of radiology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and principal investigator of the study. One concern, the need for follow-up tests, including the standard colonoscopy, was no greater in the older population. "The lack of complications, particularly no perforations, attests to the safety of this procedure even in the older population. Given what we know of the increasing risk for complications for optical colonoscopy in older patients, perhaps we should consider CT colonography more strongly in this particular group," said Kim. "This study shows that CTC is a viable screening exam in all age groups. We are hopeful now that the remaining questions regarding older patients have been answered, patients will have wider access to the CTC, more will be screened for colorectal cancer and more lives can be saved as a result."