Will Virtual Colonscopy Detect Colon Cancer or Give It to You?

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Virtual Colonoscopy: Radiating Risk

The Times article quotes Dr. Julian Nicholas, a gastroenterologist who was contracted by the FDA, as saying that approving an application for virtual colonoscopy could "expose a number of Americans to a risk of radiation that is unwarranted and may lead to instances of solid organ abdominal cancer."

Adding to the concerns about radiation was a study late last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine that there was no consistent level of radiation received for patients having angiograms. It said some received up to 22 times the radiation exposure that other patients received, simply because of the level of radiation chosen by the lab technician.

But some physicians say recent literature has focused too much on the risk of radiation, comparing doses of radiation from imaging to that received from victims certain distances from World War II bombings.

Dr. Michael Macari, an associate professor of radiology at the New York University School of Medicine, said that the data is only "extrapolated… [bombing victims had] much greater radiation received than with conventional diagnostic radiation studies."

"With virtual colonoscopy," Macari said, "the low amount of radiation that one receives is similar to background radiation that one receives living in New York City for a year."

While virtual colonoscopy has advantages, some physicians say the benefits will be outweighed by what virtual colonoscopy doesn't find.

"It is less expensive and less uncomfortable and less hassle for the patient -- and many will have colon cancer missed because of it," said Dr. Richard Honaker, senior physician and CEO of Family Medicine Associates of Texas, Inc.

Virtual Colonoscopy: Obama's Physical

Others have pointed to the fact that polyps found on a virtual colonoscopy will require a colonoscopy anyway in order to remove them.

"If a lesion is found, the patient still needs a 'real' colonoscopy to remove/biopsy the lesion," said Dr. Randy Wexler, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University. "This is another example of technology not necessarily improving anything."

President Obama had a virtual colonoscopy as part of his physical in February, seemingly a vote in its favor. But Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor, said the president was in a unique situation: undergoing anesthesia for a traditional colonoscopy would have required a transfer of powers to Vice President Biden.

But with doctors deeply divided, Besser cautioned against make a screening decision on one's own. He said patients should consider their own situation.

"I want people to realize, if you have a CT scan planned right now, don't cancel it," he said. "Talk to your doctor. Find out why you're having that done. And make sure that the benefits of that scan really outweigh the risks."

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