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Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN

Pros and Cons of Virtual Colonoscopy

By December 26, 2011

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CT scanner

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Virtual colonoscopy - it sounds like a not-so-fun video game found in sale bins after the holidays. A virtual colonoscopy, officially referred to as a computed tomographic colonography (CTC), is a screening exam used to detect colon cancer. This advanced CT scan makes a high-resolution three-dimensional image of the inside of your colon using radiography instead of a colonoscope. The CTC is generally considered to be more comfortable, cost effective, and faster than the traditional colonoscopy.

Similar to the colonoscopy, the CTC can find polyps, cancer or other disorders of the colon. The accuracy rate of detection is, however, dependant on the size of your colon polyps or growths. According to the National Cancer Institute, if your polyps are 10mm or larger, there is a 90 percent chance they will be found with the CTC. However, if your polyps or growths are only 6mm, the chance of finding them drops to 78 percent.

The Pros of CTC:

  • This exam does not require a rectally inserted scope to visualize your colon
  • No sedation (analgesia) is used
  • The CT scan is faster than a colonoscopy
  • You won't need someone to drive you home after the test
  • It is covered by most private insurances for routine screening after 50 years of age
  • High detection rate for larger polyps

The Cons of CTC:

  • You may still need a colonoscopy, especially if polyps are found (to take samples for biopsy or to remove the polyps)
  • Not currently covered by Medicare
  • You will still have to endure a bowel preparation to clean out your colon
  • Detection rate questionable for smaller polyps

Putting all of the pros and cons aside for a minute -- some kind of screening is better than no kind of screening, especially for anyone who refuses a traditional colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor to make the right choice for your colonoscopy screening exam.


CIGNA. (n.d.). CIGNA Medical Coverage Policy. Accessed: December 26, 2011.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. (n.d.). CT Colonography ("Virtual Colonoscopy") for Colon Cancer Screening. Accessed: December 26, 2011.

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Results of the National CT Colonography Trial: Q & A. Accessed: December 26, 2011.

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