Virtual colonoscopy as good as the real thing?

The best news is that, if your first colonoscopy was clean, you really don't need to go back for five full years.

Virtual Colonoscopy from Associated Radiologists of New JerseySort of. If we're talking about the re-test, and your first one came up negative.

A virtual colonoscopy replaces an operation and a scope up your butt with x-rays and other imaging.

But you still need the same preparation you do for the real thing (an empty colon is a visible colon), and that's really 90% of the hassle.

I had my first colonoscopy 2 years ago and it was really no big deal. There was some stomach pain the day before, when I had to empty my digestive tract. But the procedure itself was easy -- they knocked me out and I was back at work that afternoon.

Since then, of course, Aetna and other insurers have decided to stop covering the drugs needed to make this painless, so for my next trip I'm likely to prefer the virtual tour.

In the study published at the New England Journal of Medicine today, 90% of adenomas and cancers were found in virtual screenings of over 2,500 patients.

Thus, if your first screening was negative, the new view is that the virtual screening is just as good the second time around.

The big difference is that the hands-on screening, by a gastroenterologist armed with an endoscope, is more accurate, but the virtual screening, done through a radiologist, costs less and takes less time.

The best news is that, if your first colonoscopy was clean, you really don't need to go back for five full years.

So I've got my calendar marked for 2011. And if you've still got fears about colonoscopy, just think of it as a 50th birthday present you give to yourself.

If you want to see a virtual colonoscopy, Associated Radiologists of New Jersey is offering a demo on their site. That picture comes from them.