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Sure, President Obama can get a virtual colonoscopy, but you ... (And should you?)

March 1, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Polyps Perhaps you read that President Obama recently had a virtual colonoscopy instead of the more traditional kind. And perhaps you're thinking, "Hey, if I have to have a screening of my large intestine, make mine a virtual one too!"

Not so fast.

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse makes these key points about virtual colonoscopies: They're not without their own unpleasantness (the colon must still be emptied). They don't always find small polyps. And if they DO find a problem, then you've got to make a date with a long, lighted flexible tube anyway.

Not deterred? Keep this in mind: Medicare and many health insurance plans won't pay for them.

Here's today's story on Obama's first physical exam since he became president.

And, as context, an earlier L.A. Times story on the debate about virtual colonoscopies.  Here's a quick passage: "But there is still no consensus about the effectiveness of the new procedure. Some critics contend it could inflate the nation's skyrocketing healthcare tab because a traditional colonoscopy is required if anything is found in the imaging."

Interesting, no?

Here's a primer on the traditional kind. Truly, they're not so bad.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Left, a polyp as seen using virtual colonoscopy software, and on the right, the same polyp as seen with  conventional colonoscopy.

Credit:  Dr. Perry Pickhardt / Associated Press

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Comments (3)

Interesting failure to mention that the American Cancer Society - the Nation's authority on cancer screening protocol - added virtual colonoscopy as a recommended screening option based on the scientific evidence supporting its usefulness and equivalency to optical colonoscopy. Also interesting that there was no mention that the American Gastroenterological Association - with over 17,000 members - supports the use of virtual colonoscopy and was adamantly opposed to Medicare's denial for reimbursement.

Since the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse failed to list advantages and disadvantages of Optical (traditional) Colonoscopy, but conveniently listed them for Virtual Colonoscopy, here are a few simple FACTS about the dangers of Optical Colonoscopy (Please note that NONE of these dangers are possible with Virtual Colonoscopy):

- Identified dangers of the colonoscopy procedure itself include reactions to the sedatives and-or narcotics administered potentially leading to adverse respiratory and-or cardiac events, gastrointestinal perforation, rupture of the spleen, acute anemia, hemorrhaging, stroke, and gastrointestinal burn. A very uncommon danger, but one on record, is transmission of Hepatitis C resulting from improperly sterilized Colonoscopy instruments.

- While rare, death can occur during the colonoscopy procedure. Most deaths during colonoscopy result from perforation, however, there is certainly potential for death from adverse reactions to the anesthesia, or as a result of either hemorrhaging or stroke should the procedure precipitate those adverse reactions.

- Perforation can occur not only during the colonoscopy but for several days afterwards, often associated with normal bowel activity as a precipitating event. Weakness, abdominal discomfort, and delayed reactions to the various medications and preparations used in the course of the procedure can also occur.

- Additionally, one of the medications given, Versed, is given to induce amnesia of the procedure itself in the patient. Some patients have reported resultant memory problems for months and even years after a colonoscopy procedure. Some patients have also reported anxiety and mood issues after taking Versed.

The bottom line is ANYONE trying to deter someone from having either test (Virtual or Optical) is highly suspect. The intent of both tests is to HELP prevent a top 3 cancer killer. Unfortunately, so few of Americans actually have the test performed, a cancer that is nearly 100% preventable kills tens of thousands each year because of articles like this. They confuse and deter rather than inspire and inform - a tragic reality that should not go unchallenged.

Virtual colonoscopies can be done with a CAT Scan or MRI. I hope President Obama's was done with an MRI.

Virtual colonoscopies that are performed with a CAT Scan are a source of extremely high radiation exposure. The FDA has recently focused on reducing the use of CAT Scans because it substantially increases one's probability of acquiring cancer.

So why does OBUMMER get one but people on Medicare CANNOT ? Is this what our new SOCIALIZED health care is going to be like ?? THE RICH AND FAMOUS AND POLITICIANS GET THE GOODS ?



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