Virtual colonoscopy a #8216;real#8217; breakthrough

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 4, 2007

As a newspaper editor, I see more than my share of news stories that come across the Associated Press wire.

But it is suffice to say that these words, written by AP writer Stephanie Nano, stood out to me a little:

“Having an X-ray to look for signs of colon cancer may soon be an option for those who dread the traditional scope exam.”

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Let me just say for the record that I am squarely in the group that will “dread the traditional scope exam.”

There may be some macho guys out there who say they are not in that group. Yeah, they’re liars, or they’re just dumb. Or, they’re not close enough to age 50 yet.

It’s not that I will avoid it because I understand the important of a colonoscopy — for men and women. Colon cancer is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, partly because — experts say — many polyps and early cancers in the bowel fail to produce symptoms.

Professionals also say about one-third of deaths from colon cancer could have been prevented with early detection.

So, this is a serious matter.

But, Nano’s story is about a procedure called “virtual colonoscopy.” Now, when I hear virtual, I think of video simulations where, you know, it’s not real. A virtual aviator can crash into a mountain, but nobody dies. A virtual golfer can smack a tee shot into the woods, but it’s not in front of your buddies so nobody cares.

So, what is this virtual colonoscopy?

Well, as it turns out, it’s still in the experimental phase and the jury is still out on it, but early reports indicate it’s just as effective as a traditional colonoscopy and is quicker and less expensive. CT scanners take X-rays of the colon and create a 3-D image, but there is some concern about exposing patients to radiation.

Medical professionals are being cautious because, well, that’s what they do. Those of us in the public, however, are traditionally more inclined to take risk. That’s because we want things that involve less pain, fewer dollars and reduced time.

But, before anyone gets too excited, if a virtual colonoscopy reveals that polyps are present, a traditional colonoscopy is required to remove them. Still, this notion is a breakthrough in the sense that it can be used as a tool to have more men and women take this very important test.

And that might lead to more real people hitting real golf balls into real trees.

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12, or by e-mail at