Virtual Colonoscopies Can Save Lives

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During a time of increased awareness about the disproportionate impact cancer has on minorities and economically disadvantaged Americans, it is important to call attention to new improvements in healthcare that can draw down the number of minority patients who suffer from this devastating disease.

Colorectal cancer is just one of the many diseases that disproportionally affects the African American community.  In this case, the truth is in the numbers. Sadly, the number of American Americans dying of colorectal cancer far outweighs the number of Caucasian Americans succumbing to this, in most cases, highly preventable and treatable cancer.  In fact, the mortality rate from colorectal cancer in African Americans is 48 percent higher than in whites.

Statistics demonstrate that African Americans undergo colonoscopy, a screening tool for identifying polyps and other cancerous masses in the colon, at a much lower rate than other populations, which can be directly attributed to the high level of colon cancer deaths among blacks.  Unfortunately, many patients are reluctant to undergo traditional colonoscopies due to their discomfort.  Even more troubling is the outcome of a recent study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which concluded that the disproportion between white and nonwhite Medicare enrollees receiving a colonoscopy screening actually increased between 1995 and 2003.

Although these numbers are concerning, there are many positive developments in the area of colorectal cancer care that can help alleviate the growing threat of this disease on our nation’s black communities.  Recent advances in medical technology have produced a test called computer tomography colonography (CTC), more commonly known as a virtual colonoscopy.  Unlike a traditional colonoscopy, this colon cancer testing procedure is minimally invasive, requires no sedation, is quick and very safe.  CTC offers patients a safe and quick alternative testing method that is proven to be as clinically effective as traditional screening methods.

Although these numbers are concerning, there are many positive developments in the area of colorectal cancer care that can help alleviate the growing threat of this disease on our nation’s black communities.  Recent advances in medical technology have produced a test called computer tomography colonography (CTC), more commonly known as a virtual colonoscopy.  Unlike a traditional colonoscopy, this colon cancer testing procedure is minimally invasive, requires no sedation, is quick and very safe.  CTC offers patients a safe and quick alternative testing method that is proven to be as clinically effective as traditional screening methods.

Despite these promising developments in preventative medicine, government policies threaten to restrict seniors’ access to this new testing method.  Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made a final coverage decision for CTC denying coverage for this effective screening tool for Medicare beneficiaries – Americans 65 and older.

As a radiologist who is all too familiar with the personal stories of patients battling cancer, I support CTC coverage because of its ability to increase the screening compliance level among all Americans, which is far too low, particularly among minorities and Americans 65 and older.  And, approximately 70 percent of new cancer diagnoses occur in elderly patients.

Members of Congress, including several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have voiced their concern to CMS and asked them to reconsider their decision, which could ultimately improve the health and save the lives of seniors throughout the African American community.  These leaders encouraged Administration officials to support reimbursement policies that could potentially close or eliminate the gap in colorectal cancer screening between whites and minority populations.

The impact of colon cancer, coupled with the other health risks that plague African American populations – diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases – can continue to devastate communities.  Or we can come together to support access to any and all testing methods that can help prevent cancer deaths.  I choose the latter.

Virtual Colonoscopies Can Save Lives – Podcast

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Comments   

0 Andrew 2009-08-03 13:34
Great information
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0 Guest 2009-07-12 15:21
What is the anticiapted cost of this new test as compared to a regular colonoscopy? I noticed in you rstory that you did not before to the high cost of current colonoscopies as deterent or barrier but of a fear to the procedure. My experience show that the COST is the major factor in minorities not receiving a colonscopy.
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0 Guest 2009-07-07 15:57
To me the worst part of a colonoscopy is the prep, which is the same for a virtual colonoscopy. Making the prep less odious is half the battle. The other half is explaining the procedure and offering the patient sedation during the conventional colonoscopy. The advantage to the conventional colonoscopy is avoiding the irradiation and expense of the CT. The advantage of the CT is a recorded image that can be manipulated virtually. However if polyps are found, a conventional colonoscopy must still be performed. And a virtual colonoscopy cannot detect really small polyps or flat lesions. Perhaps the question is really one of underinsurance of the minority population rather than the mode of exam, and universal healthcare insurance is the answer.
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