Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in this country. In 2008 the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates it will cause nearly 50,000 deaths in the United States. Many of these lives could be saved if the disease were detected early.
With a recent historic agreement, the leading authorities in the fields of cancer prevention, radiology, and colorectal cancer have laid the groundwork for widespread access to a more patient-friendly way to screen for this deadly disease.
In an unprecedented collaboration, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer endorsed Virtual Colonoscopy (VC) as a screening option for colorectal cancer in average-risk adults age 50 years and older. The endorsement is seen as an important step toward insurance reimbursement for VC.
Until now, colorectal cancer screening guidelines have called for average-risk adults 50 and older to have an optical colonoscopy every ten years to screen for colorectal cancer. The procedure, in which a thin, lighted tube equipped with a camera is inserted through the rectum into the colon, is used to look for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer. Sedation is necessary as patients typically find this procedure uncomfortable.
Virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scanner to capture a series of images of the colon, which are then assembled with software to create detailed, 3-D images of the patient’s colon. A radiologist can then conduct a “fly through” of the colon to look for polyps or anything else that seems unusual on the inside surface of the colon.
In a recent study conducted last year by American College of Radiology Imaging Network, VC was shown to be comparable to conventional colonoscopy for the detection of cancer and clinically significant polyps when state-of-the-art techniques are applied and images are read by radiologists trained in the procedure.
After intensive training, John Benson, M.D., Medical Director of Mount Desert Island Hospital’s Medical Imaging Department began offering the procedure in 2004 as a more tolerable alternative to air contrast barium enema (ACBE), used when traditional colonoscopy could not examine the entire colon. While most insurance companies have covered it as a replacement for ACBE, reimbursement for VC as the primary screening method only became likely with the recent endorsement.
Consistently at the forefront of medical imaging technology, Dr. Benson was one of the first in northern New England to offer virtual colonoscopy for this purpose. “By making use of MDI Hospital’s advanced imaging capabilities, we’ve been able to provide a more comfortable option for thousands of patients to prevent colorectal cancer,” explained Dr. Benson.
Dr. Benson believes strongly in the many benefits of virtual colonoscopy. “Not only is virtual colonoscopy equally capable of detecting cancer, it’s less invasive than conventional colonoscopy, it is an excellent alternative for patients who have certain clinical risks, is better for elderly or frail patients, and in a small number of patients, can detect abnormalities outside the colon that would otherwise be undetected by conventional colonoscopy,” explained Dr. Benson.
Dr. Benson added that the recent collaborative endorsement of virtual colonoscopy will likely lead to broad acceptance, insurance reimbursement, and most importantly, patient compliance. “Access to this lifesaving technology is an important key in the fight against colorectal cancer.”
For more information on virtual colonoscopy, call MDI Hospital’s Medical Imaging Department at 288-5081, extension 329, or visit www.cancer.org on the internet.