In early 2008, the American Cancer Society (ACS) added virtual colonoscopy as well as stool DNA testing on its list of suggested screening methods for colon cancer. Screening for colon cancer is recommended for all adults 50 years and older. Besides these two options, the others are:
- fecal stool testing (FIT or FOBT) annually
- double contrast barium enema every 5 years
- flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- colonoscopy every 10 years
While I understand why ACS recommended adding virtual colonoscopy to its list, I don't agree with them. Although it is not as invasive as a sigmoidoscopy or colonscopy since patients lay on the CT scanner table while an x-ray technician works the machines to allow xrays to peer into the body, the colon preparation as well as the insufflation of air to distend the colon, is still required. Also, there is exposure of radiation which increasingly a question doctors are facing. Is doing a scan worth the risk of radiation exposure and potentially higher risk of cancer?
More importantly, if a colon polyp or growth is seen on the virtual colonoscopy, patients still need to have an invasive procedure - sigmoidoscopy / colonoscopy - to do a biopsy or removal of the lesion in question. At least these procedures don't involve any radiation as the instrument is essentially a fiber optic cable.
With the healthcare crisis upon us and the nation asking itself what is affordable and reasonable and what is not, CMS hopefully will not recommend virtual colonoscopy to be added to its list of covered benefits. While the technology is attractive, there are other proven screening tests that albeit uncomfortable are life-saving and don't subject people to unnecessary radiation.