September 18, 2008

Virtual Colon Screen Works — Won’t Replace Colonoscopy Yet

ATLANTA - A long-awaited federal study of an X-ray alternative to the dreaded colonoscopy confirms its effectiveness at spotting most cancers, although it was far from perfect.

Medicare is already considering paying for this cheaper, less intrusive option that could persuade more people to get screened for colon cancer. And some experts believe the new method may boost the 50 percent screening rate for a cancer that is the country's second biggest killer.

"We're talking about for the first time really screening the population," said Dr. Carl Jaffe, an imaging expert at the National Cancer Institute who was not involved in the research.

In the new study, the largest of its kind, the so-called "virtual colonoscopy" identified nine out of 10 people who had cancers and large growths seen by regular colonoscopies.

But there were flaws, too. Among them: The radiologists sometimes misread the X-ray, leading them to spot polyps that weren't there. That led to unnecessary follow-up testing.

The X-ray test's real value may be in showing who really needs a regular colonoscopy - it was better at ruling cancer out than it was at detecting it, suggests the report in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

"Clearly, (virtual colonoscopy) has a place in medicine," said Dr. John Cromwell, University of Tennessee Health Science Center associate professor and chief of colorectal surgery.

"There's a lot of patients I would like to have the option of doing a virtual colonoscopy on. Whether it should be used in routine screening hasn't really been proven yet. However, if everybody who was supposed to get a colonoscopy tried to do so, there's not enough qualified endoscopists to do all of them," Cromwell said.

Colorectal cancer will claim about 50,000 lives this year. The point of screening is to find growths before they turn cancerous.

Originally published by From Staff and Wire reports .

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