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A Laxative-Free, Virtual Colonoscopy? It Could Happen Soon

virtual colon3

Think of it: A virtual colonoscopy that doesn't require a day spent taking laxatives and being sequestered in the bathroom, and doesn't use that lovely little camera-probe inserted where the sun don't shine.

Sign me up, you might say.

Yeah, well, not so fast. First, it's still being studied. And second, it's almost -- but not quite -- as accurate as the traditional colonoscopy that does require all that prep work.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a new method using a CT scan to screen for colon cancer could detect 91 percent of suspicious polyps 10 millimeters or larger, compared with 95 percent identified when the same patients had a standard colonoscopy.

The study was partially funded by GE Healthcare, maker of the CT imaging device used in virtual colonoscopies.

Because colon cancer -- found most often in people age 50 and older -- is largely preventable if polyps are caught early, having a colonoscopy is a life-saving treatment.

However, researchers acknowledge that many people dread the day-before laxative preparation to clear out their bowels so the polyps can be seen.

The new technique, explains the Boston Globe, works by using a contrast dye, which patients ingest two days before the test, to highlight fecal matter in the colon, which then can be digitally erased from the scan using a software program, making it easier to see polyps.

In the study of 605 patients, who underwent both the virtual colonoscopy followed by the standard one, the standard one was also better than the virtual test at detecting smaller polyps. The virtual colonoscopy detected 70 percent of polyps under 8 millimeters, compared with 88 percent detected by the traditional exam.

The CT scan also delivers a dose of radiation, which is why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government advisory group, recommended against the procedure in 2008, saying it wasn't clear that the benefits outweighed the risk.

Still, researchers think a virtual colonoscopy might encourage those who have been avoiding getting screened to go ahead and do it.

Just one thing: If you have a virtual colonoscopy and it does detect a polyp, you still have to undergo a standard colonoscopy -- laxatives and all -- to have the polyp removed and biopsied.

In other health news:

New trial of Alzheimer's drug hopes to stop disease before it starts. Alzheimer's researchers announced a new international study to see whether an experimental drug could stall the disease in a family genetically predisposed to get a type of the devastating disease. A second study will test whether a nasal spray that sends insulin to the brain can help people with early memory problems, the Associated Press reports.

Pets play important role in senior living centers across U.S. Hundreds of retirement communities across the country allow seniors to live with their pets, and an increasing number of centers keep house pets that provide pet companionship benefits to residents without the responsibility, reports the Washington Post.

Look away while you get a shot and it will hurt less. has a story about a German study that proves what we always tell our kids: Don't watch while you get a shot and it won't hurt as much.

Photo credit: Radiological Society of North America

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