Virtual Colonoscopy (VC)
Colorectal cancer is an abnormal growth of
tissue in the colon or rectum that often
begins as a non-cancerous polyp (growth).
Some polyps if left to grow over time will
change into a tumor or cancer.
American Cancer Society 2017 statistics:
ξ About 135,430 new cases of colon
and rectal cancer will be diagnosed
in the United States this year.
ξ The lifetime risk of getting colorectal
cancer is 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23
ξ Colorectal cancer is the third most
common cancer and the second
leading cause of cancer deaths
While this may sound scary, it is important
to know that colorectal cancer rates have
been decreasing since the 1980s with the
help of screening tests. Colorectal cancer
may be prevented if a significant polyp is
found in your colon and removed. There is
a much better chance of survival if found
Colorectal polyps and early stage colorectal
cancer rarely cause any symptoms. The key
is to be screened before symptoms develop.
What is Virtual Colonoscopy?
Virtual Colonoscopy (VC), also known as
CT colonography, is a screening test that
helps prevent and find colorectal cancer. It
looks at the colon for polyps that may
become cancerous. A computed
tomography (CT) scan takes a picture of the
inside of your colon while air (CO2) is
placed in the colon. This helps doctors to
“fly” through the inside of the colon without
having to use a scope.
During this test, the doctor can also see
some CT pictures outside of the colon in the
abdomen and pelvis. This may help find
problems in the abdomen and pelvis such as
abdominal aneurysms, other cancers, or
conditions you may not have been aware of.
The main purpose of this exam though is to
screen for growths (polyps) in the lining of
the large intestine (colon and rectum).
Screening for colorectal cancer and colon
polyps should start at age 50. If you have a
first-degree relative (a parent, brother, sister,
or child) with colorectal cancer, talk to your
doctor to find out if screening should start
sooner than age 50.
Things to know about VC
ξ UW is proud to have the national leading
medical expert on VC, Dr. Perry
ξ As good as a scope at finding significant
ξ Because a scope is not placed in the
colon, VC is less invasive and much
ξ Takes about 20 minutes
ξ No sedation needed, so you do not need
a driver. You can go back to normal
activities or work as soon as the exam is
ξ Safe for patients on anticoagulants. You
do not have to stop your medicine.
ξ Can be used to screen the whole colon in
patients that were unable to have a full
optical colonoscopy (an exam that looks
at the inside of the colon and rectum
using a flexible tube with a built in
camera and light).
ξ The prep kit is supplied, so there is no
ξ Uses a low volume bowel prep that is
done the evening before the exam.
ξ An appointment can often be scheduled
within one week or at a time that works
ξ VC costs less than optical colonoscopy.
ξ About 8% of VC patients are referred to
optical colonoscopy to remove polyps.
ξ An optical colonoscopy can be set up the
same day at the UW Digestive Health
Center or University Hospital to remove
polyps without re-prepping.
ξ If a polyp less than 1 cm is found on VC,
patients have the choice of “watchful
waiting” (a VC follow-up exam in 3
years) or same day removal with optical
ξ At many VC exam locations, we can
also do a CT BMD (bone mineral
density) to screen for osteoporosis. This
can be done at the same time as the VC
exam with no extra scans or cost.
ξ The CT scanner used for VC uses the
least amount of radiation needed to best
view the colon for each individual
If you would like to find out more about
virtual colonoscopy or have questions,
please call the Virtual Colonoscopy Program
office at (608) 263-9630. You can also view
images of VC or the bowel prep instructions
at uwhealth.org/virtualcolonoscopy or
watch a video about what to expect with a
virtual colonoscopy exam at
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