A virtual colonoscopy is a test used to detect polyps and ulcers in the colon and colon or rectal cancer. We offer virtual colonoscopies at Boardwalk Diagnostics with a referral from a provider. Continue reading to learn more about what happens during a virtual colonoscopy and what you can expect from this procedure.
What Is a Virtual Colonoscopy?
A virtual colonoscopy is a minimally invasive screening test that uses X-ray technology to scan your colon and abdominal organs and produce images your doctor can review for signs of polyps, ulcers, and cancer. Also known as computerized tomography (CT) colonography, this test is generally used in people aged 45 years and older who meet risk factors for colon cancer or want a minimally invasive alternative to traditional colonoscopy.
What’s the Difference Between a Regular Colonoscopy and a Virtual Colonoscopy?
Compared with a regular colonoscopy, a virtual colonoscopy is far less invasive, takes less time to perform, and requires no sedation or anesthesia. A regular colonoscopy is generally performed once every 10 years, while a virtual colonoscopy is recommended every five years.
During a regular colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a long, narrow, flexible tube into your colon to examine the inside for irregularities. At the end of this tube is a tiny camera that projects the images from inside your colon onto a computer screen. A regular colonoscopy may produce mild discomfort, but your doctor will give you medications to reduce any pain that may be felt during the procedure. The main risk associated with a regular colonoscopy is bleeding or tearing of the colon caused by the tube, though this complication is rare.
During a virtual colonoscopy, a doctor performs a CT scan of your colon and abdominal area to create highly detailed 3D images. These images make it relatively easy for your doctor to spot any abnormalities in these areas that may be causing symptoms. This procedure is associated with fewer complications than a regular colonoscopy and eliminates the need for pain-reducing medication.
Why a Virtual Colonoscopy?
A virtual colonoscopy is a safe, effective, and non-invasive way to determine whether you have colon cancer. Early detection of colon cancer can result in early treatment and give you a better chance of resolving cancer before it progresses to a more advanced stage. A virtual colonoscopy can benefit you if you are aged 45 years or older or meet risk factors for colon cancer.
Colon cancer risk factors include:
- A family history of polyps or cancer of the colon or rectum
- A history of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Being overweight or obese
- Sedentary lifestyle / physical inactivity
- High-fat, low-fiber diet
- Heavy alcohol use
Your doctor will recommend when and whether you should have a virtual colonoscopy based on your age, health status, and whether you meet any of the above risk factors.
What Is the Prep for a Virtual Colonoscopy?
The most important step involved with preparing for a virtual colonoscopy is emptying your colon beforehand. Any waste in your colon may obscure the images from the CT scan and result in your having to come in for another appointment. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to make sure your colon is emptied prior to the test. Your doctor will also ask you to provide a list of all medications you’re currently using, as some may need to be temporarily stopped or adjusted for a few days before your test.
In most cases, you will be asked to refrain from consuming any foods or drinks after midnight on the day before the virtual colonoscopy. Your doctor may provide you with a laxative to take that same night to promote a full bowel movement the next morning, along with a suppository to clear any remaining waste in your colon.
On the day of your test, you will likely be limited to clear liquids only, such as water or green tea. Your doctor will give you additional prep instructions when you arrive at the clinic for your test.
What to Expect During a Virtual Colonoscopy
Shortly after arriving for your appointment, you will be asked to change into a gown and lie down on your side on an exam table with your knees drawn up to your chest.
Then, your doctor or nurse will insert a small catheter into your rectum to fill your colon with air. This may produce a feeling of slight pressure in your abdomen but helps provide your doctor with clear, precise images of the inside of your colon and abdominal region. You will then be asked to move into various positions and hold your breath for seconds at a time while the X-ray scans your pelvis and colon.
How Long Is a Virtual Colonoscopy Appointment?
A virtual colonoscopy appointment usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. You may spend a few extra minutes changing in and out of your gown and discussing the procedure with your doctor. After your exam is over, you can resume your usual activities, as a virtual colonoscopy produces no downtime.
Is a Virtual Colonoscopy Covered By Medicare?
Unfortunately, a virtual colonoscopy is not covered by Medicare, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services considers this service to be a new technology that requires additional evidence before it can be covered. If you have Medicare, contact your healthcare provider to learn more about out-of-pocket costs for this treatment and similar screenings for colon cancer, such as regular colonoscopy, that your health plan may cover.
What Happens Once My Results Are Ready?
After the results of your virtual colonoscopy are ready, your doctor will discuss them with you over the phone or at your next appointment. If your results are negative, your doctor may recommend having another test in five years. If your results are positive, your doctor may discuss your treatment options and prescribe the best course of treatment. In some instances, your doctor may order additional testing to properly diagnose your condition or rule out other conditions.
To learn more about virtual colonoscopies, or any of the other types of imaging studies that we have available, please feel free to call either of our Boardwalk Diagnostics locations.
Boardwalk Diagnostics in Bedford – (972) 258-7465
Boardwalk Diagnostics in Irving – (972) 258-7480