Going With Your Gut -- Virtual Colonoscopy Simplifies Cancer Screening

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( NewsUSA ) -Did you know that colorectal cancer is expected to kill more than 50,000 American men and women this year?

But there is hope.

Colorectal cancer is often preventable. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly all of these cancers start as "polyps"-- growths inside the colon or rectum. If people 50-and-older get screened, these can be found and removed before they turn cancerous.

However, many adults choose not to get tested because of cultural stigmas, anticipated discomfort and the cost of a traditional colonoscopy. But new options can help. Under federal law, private insurers must now cover "virtual colonoscopy" -- also known as CT colonography. Many large insurers -- including CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield -- have covered this ACS-recommended exam for some time.

Unlike its traditional counterpart, virtual colonoscopy is far less invasive. It still requires a laxative preparation, but does not require sedation. Little, if any, recovery time is needed, and patients can go back to work or daily activities afterward. In addition, it is as accurate as a standard colonoscopy for most people, and it costs less. Not surprisingly, availability of this test has been shown to increase screening rates.

Click here to see video.

How it works: A radiologist uses high-tech, low-dose X-rays to generate 3D, moving images of the colon that doctors examine for polyps and signs of cancer. Only if polyps or cancers are found do you have to go on to have those removed by a standard colonoscopy or surgery.

Medicare does not yet cover virtual colonoscopy. However, patient groups, minority health care advocates, and medical societies are urging Medicare to cover the test.

"Colorectal cancer screening through less invasive options like CT colonography is appealing to patients, especially the Medicare population," says Anne Carlson, executive director of the Colon Cancer Coalition. "Covering this patient-centered option will help save lives."

Expanded insurance coverage of virtual colonoscopy can make it more appealing and accessible to many who should be screened but choose not to. According to ACS, African-Americans, those in many rural areas and Hispanics are less likely to be screened. African-American and rural residents are more likely to develop and die from colorectal cancer than Caucasians. And because U.S. Hispanics are less likely to be screened, they have their cancers discovered later. In fact, U.S. Hispanics are more likely to die from this disease than those in many Central- and South American countries.

Expanded coverage for less invasive, affordable screening could boost colorectal cancer care in these communities and nationwide.

For more information visit www.radiologyinfo.org/VirtualCT.

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