Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Font Size

New Technique Shows Promise for Detecting Colon Cancer

WebMD Health News

Nov. 10, 1999 (Seattle) -- Using computer-generated images, doctors can spot early signs of colon cancer without subjecting their patients to an uncomfortable procedure, according to a study in the Nov. 11 edition of TheNew England Journal of Medicine. But experts say the new technique still has flaws and is several years away from widespread use.

The study looked at a procedure called virtual colonoscopy. It's done using a noninvasive technique called computed tomography, or CT scanning, to capture a series of high-quality X-ray images of the large intestine. The images are fed into a computer, which uses them to create a three-dimensional representation of the entire colon. Using a computer equipped with special software, a doctor can examine this 'virtual colon' for polyps, small growths that can lead to cancer.

Virtual colonoscopy is designed as an alternative to conventional colonoscopy, in which a doctor uses a long, flexible tube to examine the intestine. Researchers say the procedure is uncomfortable, and people undergoing it usually have to be sedated. Also, they say, there is a small risk that the tube will puncture the wall of the intestine during the examination. As a result, the procedure is usually reserved for patients who are thought to be at high risk for colon cancer.

The study of virtual colonoscopy was done by a team at Boston University. They had doctors examine 100 patients at high risk of colon cancer using both the virtual and conventional techniques on each individual.

Both techniques found three cancerous growths. But conventional colonoscopy proved slightly better than its virtual counterpart at detecting polyps. Most of the polyps missed by virtual colonoscopy were small, and none of them proved to be cancerous.

Joseph Ferrucci, MD, an author of the study and chairman of radiology at Boston University Medical School, tells WebMD that virtual colonoscopy still needs some refinement. "In skilled hands it's already an effective technique," he says, "But we need more studies before it can be widely endorsed."

John Bond, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, tells WebMD that virtual colonoscopy still has some significant flaws. One is that in order to get good images of the intestine, doctors must inflate it with air. "Many patients find that uncomfortable," he says.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
The right diagnosis is the most important factor.
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
bladder cancer x-ray
Do you know the warning signs?
Colon vs Rectal Cancer
New Colorectal Treatments
can lack of sleep affect your immune system
Cancer Facts Quiz
Virtual Colonoscopy
Picture of the Colon
Vitamin D