Virtual Colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy (VC), also known as CT colonography, is a new procedure that is equally effective, less invasive, safer and faster than standard colonoscopy for colon cancer screening.

What is a Virtual Colonoscopy

Colon cancer remains one of the three leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States. Fortunately, however, new technologies such as VC, make it easier than ever to safely and effectively screen patients for this disease, allowing for prevention, early detection and early intervention.

UCSF Imaging Center at China Basin is one of the few centers in California to offer this screening, which is best performed using the 64-slice CT scanner—the latest generation of CT technology and specialized software. Our staff includes radiologists who have received the special training that is required to read the results.

Unlike standard colonoscopy, VC does not require sedation. Patients can drive themselves home and return to normal daily activities immediately after the procedure.

VC is approved by the American Cancer Society and leading gastrointestinal societies as an alternative to standard colonoscopy.

Low risk, speed, and thoroughness are among the benefits of virtual colonoscopy.

To schedule your VC exam, please call Radiology Central Scheduling at (415) 353-3900. More information is available about scheduling an exam.

Benefits of Virtual Colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy has many benefits, including:

  • Low risk: Compared with standard colonoscopy, there are no risks associated with sedation, and there is a much lower risk of bowel perforation. In addition, the radiation exposure from virtual colonoscopy is very low.
  • Faster procedure: The entire virtual colonoscopy procedure takes less than 30 minutes, compared to an entire day that patients must set aside for standard colonoscopy. Patients can return to work and other regular activities on the same day as the procedure, and they do not need someone to take them home.
  • Quick diagnosis: At UCSF, each image receives a same-day, double-reading by two specially-trained radiologists to ensure the most accurate diagnosis. Reports are sent to referring physicians within 24 hours.
  • Thorough evaluation: Virtual colonoscopy is more thorough than standard colonoscopy; it can spot cancers and growths outside the colon because it takes a picture of the entire abdominal cavity and pelvis.
  • Accommodates all patients: Virtual colonoscopy is an excellent alternative for various patients, including those:
    • With severe breathing problems, heart disease, or other clinical factors (including treatment with a blood thinner) that increase the risk of complications from colonoscopy.
    • Who are frail or ill. Because conscious sedation is not needed, they will tolerate CT colonography better than conventional colonoscopy.
    • Whose bowel is narrowed or obstructed for any reason, such as by a large tumor.

What Happens in a Virtual Colonoscopy Exam

Virtual colonoscopy requires the same preparation as standard colonoscopy. Patients must undergo laxative cleansing and a liquid diet for 24 hours prior to the scan.

No sedation is required; the patient is wide awake during the procedure.

A small tube (compared to a 6-foot scope used in standard colonoscopy) is placed in the rectum to inflate the colon. An insufflator instills carbon dioxide into the colon to expand it. UCSF Imaging Center at China Basin uses carbon dioxide instead of air, for better visibility, faster absorption, and less cramping and discomfort.

CT scan and cutting-edge imaging software creates 2- and 3-dimensional images of the entire colon, along with other views of the pelvic and abdominal region. UCSF uses the latest generation CT technology—the 64-slice CT scanner.

The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes, including changing into and out of an exam gown. Scanning takes about 10 seconds while the patient lays still on his or her back and about 10 seconds while laying on the stomach.

Virtual colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure only. If polyps are found during the procedure (normally in about 10 to 20 percent of patients), a standard colonoscopy must be performed to remove them. If a standard colonoscopy cannot be scheduled later in the same day, the patient must complete another bowel preparation for the follow-up colonoscopy for polyp removal.

Financial Information About Virtual Colonoscopy

Most medical insurance plans have provisions to cover the cost of a screening virtual colonoscopy in some cases, and Medicare will cover a diagnostic virtual colonscopy when a traditional colonoscopy has failed or there is a medical reason why the patient cannot have a standard colonscopy.

Regardless of insurance coverage, many patients choose to pay out of pocket for the procedure because of its relatively low cost and its ease and convenience compared to standard colonoscopy. The Radiology billing and insurance office will be happy to respond to questions about any patient’s specific insurance coverage, as well as provide procedure codes and charge estimates. Please contact us at (415) 514-8888 on Monday through Friday, from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.