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Virtual Colonoscopy - Topic Overview

What is a virtual colonoscopy?

A virtual colonoscopy uses computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make a three-dimensional image of the interior lining of your large intestine camera.gif (colon) and rectum. A virtual colonoscopy can be used to screen for precancerous and cancerous growths in the colon or rectum (colorectal cancer), such as polyps or tumors.

Virtual colonoscopy (also called computed tomographic colonography, or CTC) is still being studied to determine whether the results are as accurate as a regular colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy is not yet widely available.

Virtual colonoscopy is one of many tests that may be used to screen for colon cancer. Which screening test you choose depends on your risk, your preference, and your doctor. Talk to your doctor about what puts you at risk and what test is best for you.

For more information on screening tests for colon cancer, see:

Colon Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?

Why is it done?

A virtual colonoscopy may be done to:

  • Screen for colorectal cancer or polyps.
  • Monitor the growth of polyps.
  • Screen for recurrence of colorectal cancer in people who have had surgery for this disease.
  • Evaluate abnormal results from other colon tests.
  • Replace a regular colonoscopy if the thin lighted scope cannot be inserted in the colon for some reason, such as when a tumor blocks the passage.

Virtual colonoscopy is not commonly done for other conditions at this time but may prove to be useful to:

  • Detect other problems or diseases of the anus, rectum, or large intestine (colon).
  • Check the source of internal bleeding.
  • Check the cause of chronic diarrhea.
  • Monitor the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

How do I prepare for it?

Virtual colonoscopy requires the same cleansing colon prep as a regular colonoscopy. Your doctor will tell you what to do before the test.

If you are having virtual colonoscopy using CT, you will be given some liquid to drink after your bowel prep. This drink is a contrast medium that makes the large intestine easier to see in the pictures.

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