The Virtual Colonoscopy & You

Is a virtual colonoscopy right for you?
The main advantage of a virtual colonoscopy is that anesthesia is unnecessary.

A colonoscopy in the United States is a curious rite of passage for people turning 50. It is a mildly invasive procedure, involving the insertion of a long camera into the rectum, often while the patient is under sedation. Understandably the so-called virtual colonoscopy or colonography is gaining interest as an alternative.  Your proctologist, also know as a colon and rectal surgeon or coloproctologist in the Greater Los Angeles area and Beverly Hills as well as valley, can answer your questions about all of the screening methods used in the detection of colon and rectal polyps.

What Is It?

A virtual colonoscopy, or CT colonography, involves a CT scanner which takes a series of images.  A probe is inserted to distend the colon with air.  No anesthesia is involved. A computer compiles the images to both a series of 2D images and a 3D image through which a doctor can “fly through” searching for abnormalities. It is proving reliable for detecting colon polyps over 1cm in size.  The risks of bleeding and splenic injury are reduced, and no anesthetic is involved. Because of the need to distend the colon with air, some will state that it is still an uncomfortable procedure.  A typical colonoscopy lasts 30-45 minutes.  The actual imaging portion of a CT colonography is 5-10 minutes.  Because no anesthesia is used, the patient may drive home immediately after the procedure.  One accepted advantage for CT colonography is its use following a regular standard, but incomplete colonoscopy due to colon narrowing or kinking.  It allows an evaluation of the colon that is “upstream” of the area not visualized.

How Do They Compare? (The Old, Gold Standard, And The New Kid On The Block)

Comparing a standard colonoscopy with virtual colonoscopy, both procedures require a bowel preparation, to clear the colon of stool.  If any abnormalities are seen after a CT colonography, a standard colonoscopy will have to be performed.  Also, the majority of polyps detected in the adult colon are less than 1 cm, which is a size that the CT will be less accurate in detecting.  Because anesthesia is not involved, CT colonography can actually be a more uncomfortable procedure.  The CT virtual colonoscopy has less diagnostic capability than a standard colonoscopy as more subtle findings such as wall inflammation, and biopsies cannot be obtained.  A standard colonoscopy may also be therapeutic, as polyps can be identified, and also removed.   The CT scan involves radiation and is usually not covered by your insurance

Which Way To Turn?  Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

Standard colonoscopy is a common and safe procedure. Though there is some inconvenience in undergoing the procedure, the benefits of the diagnostic advantages and proven reliability outweigh the perceived advantages over virtual colonoscopy.  Again, both require a bowel preparation, and, because no anesthesia is used in a CT colonography, patients will feel abdominal distention, negating the supposed ease of the procedure.  Speak with your colon and rectal surgeon in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills or Culver City to see which screening tool would be right for you.

For more information contact a surgeon at Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates.  (310)273-2310.