Thanks to leading-edge technology like the new “virtual colonoscopy” introduced at HMG’s Outpatient Diagnostic Center at MeadowView Lane, patient screening measures for one of the most preventable types of cancer—colon cancer—just got an incredible boost. HMG is currently the first and only provider of virtual colonoscopies in the Tri-Cities.
“The images produced are most incredible,” says HMG gastroenterologist Dallas Shone, MD. “Virtual colonoscopy is even able to detect polyps ‘hiding’ behind folds that can be difficult to see by optical colonoscopy.”
For the patient, the best part is that the scan takes only 10 minutes, does not require sedation, and involves only minimal discomfort. Patients can literally return to their normal activities immediately.
Though colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, still yet, an estimated 52,000 people will die from it this year. The reason? Only about half of those over 50 (the recommended age of when screenings should begin) get tested.
“Many patients put off this very important test because they don’t want to undergo the unpleasant experience of a traditional colonoscopy,” explains Samantha Sizemore, HMG radiology manager. “We’re hoping the ease of this procedure will save lives.”
Virtual colonoscopy relies on advances in CT scanning to produce high quality, 3D images of the colon, able to detect tumors and precancerous lesions (polyps) in the colon.
“With virtual colonoscopy, we’re visualizing both the interior and exterior of the colon, whereas conventional colonoscopy is limited to visualizing only the interior of the colon,” explains Shone.
The virtual scan also allows for the examination of the other organs of the abdomen and pelvis.
“Abnormalities can be found outside the colon that would not be seen with conventional colonoscopy,” adds Shone.
An October 2007 finding published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared conventional optical colonoscopy to virtual colonoscopy. Researchers discovered that virtual colonoscopy was as effective as optical colonoscopy in detecting polyps larger than 5mm.
“This much less invasive procedure is most excellent for patients on blood thinning medications,” says Shone.
“Because there is minimal risk of puncturing the colon, patients do not have to stop their medications. It’s also excellent for patients who have breathing difficulties and are at increased risk when undergoing anesthesia.”
Preparation for a virtual colonoscopy is much like preparation for a conventional colonoscopy in that the colon must be emptied using laxatives. Yet, in contrast to the conventional optical colonoscopy, the virtual screening only requires the slight insertion of a small rubber tip designed to fill the colon with carbon dioxide. The CT scan takes images of the colon in a matter of minutes.
“Fortunately, more than 95% of patients will have a clean bill of health,” says Shone. “For those who are found to have significant polyps, we then perform a follow-up optical colonoscopy to remove the growth.”
Patients who are over 50 are encouraged to talk with their primary care provider about recommended colon screening measures, including the new virtual colonoscopy. At this time, not all insurance plans provide coverage for a virtual colonoscopy. Patients are encouraged to verify coverage with their insurance provider.
For individuals who want a virtual colonoscopy, regardless of insurance coverage, the out-of-pocket cost for the procedure is $749. To schedule a virtual colonoscopy, contact HMG Outpatient Diagnostic Center at MeadowView to set up an appointment.