Colon Cancer Statistics: Colorectal cancer –cancer of the large intestine and rectum– is second only to lung cancer in the number of cancer deaths it causes. The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 130,000 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2000, and more than 56,000 died from the disease that year. On average, 1 in 20 people will develop the disease over the course of their lifetime. Ninety percent of cases occur in patients over age 50, and the majority of cases –75 percent– occur in people with no known risk factors.
Why Screen for Colon Cancer?
Colorectal cancers begin as small precancerous growths, called polyps. As with many cancers, there are usually no symptoms in the early stages. Polyps do sometimes bleed, and there may be some noticeable rectal bleeding. Most of the time the bleeding is invisible to the naked eye and can only be detected with laboratory testing. If diagnosed and treated in its early stages, colorectal cancer is very curable. When the tumor is entirely localized to the bowel, the ten year survival rate is 80 to 90 percent, but if the cancer has spread to the liver, less than 5 percent of victims live five years. Most authorities now accept a screening strategy for an average risk, asymptomatic individual that calls for repeat colon screening every 5 years with flexible sigmoidoscopy. An alternative recommendation would be to have your whole colon screened once during your lifetime, somewhere around your 60th birthday. Traditionally, this has meant either a conventional colonoscopy or a combination of an air contrast barium enema with sigmoidoscopy.
Why Virtual Colonoscopy?
Virtual Colonoscopy is a fantastic new test that gives doctors a new way to look inside the colon for the detection polyps and cancers. This alternative to standard Colonoscopy does not require a hospital or outpatient stay, or anesthesia. Utilizing advanced 3-D image rendering techniques, a virtual voyage through the colon is generated from the scan images. For the first time, we can look inside the colon without having to insert a long tube into the anus under anesthesia (conventional colonoscopy) or filling the colon with that chalky, white liquid (barium) enema.
About this test
A bowel cleansing preparation is done prior to the test. The procedure begins by having a small flexible rubber tube placed into the rectum, so that air can be introduced. The scan is performed while patients lie comfortably on their back and then on their stomach. Plan on 20 minutes for the test. No sedation is used and you can leave immediately following the exam and resume your normal diet and activities. Our radiologist reviews your scan and you will receive your report by mail.
When air is introduced in the colon some patients experience mild abdominal cramping or “gas pains”. Rarely, an intravenous injection may be needed to relax the bowel to help reduce the discomfort and gas pains. Some insurance companies (but not Medicare) are covering the Virtual Colonoscopy exam with a physician’s order. We can not advise you of the specific benefits under your particular policy, you should contact your health insurer to see if you have coverage for this test.
Research has shown that Virtual Colonoscopy is better able to see polyps than barium enema and is just as accurate as conventional colonoscopy. Now that an accurate, quick and safe test for early colon cancer is available it is even less excusable to avoid or delay “clearing your colon”. Give yourself and your spouse a once in a lifetime birthday present, say at age 60 – an appointment for a Virtual Colonoscopy. Colon screening by Virtual Colonoscopy should be as basic and instinctive as a mammogram for women or a PSA for men once that certain age is reached. Although this test does not require a physician referral, it is recommended that you consult with your physician to discuss your personal recommendations for a colon examination.