Virtual Colonoscopy Saves African-American Air Force Pilot

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For 12 years Randy Williams flew aboard Special Airlift Missions from Andrews Air Force Base, MD. During his last six years, he flew on Air Force One with Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. Randy traveled to every continent except Antarctica. He even joined President Bush on his secret visit to U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Thanksgiving in 2003.

But then, in 2007, as Master Sergeant Williams prepared to retire from the military after 24 years, physicians advised the husband and father during his exit physical that within a year he should do something important: get his colon checked.

Luckily, a friend had already urged Randy to get screened for colorectal cancer. As an African-American, and because of a family history with the potentially fatal disease - his mother had had polyps - Randy faced higher than average risks, even though then only age 43. His friend enlisted him to undergo a "virtual colonoscopy," a far less invasive and more affordable alternative which uses high-tech, low-dose X-rays to produce three-dimensional, moving images of the colon - and does not require sedation.

Randy underwent the test, and physicians found larger-than-average polyps in his colon. Within an hour, surgeons removed the polyps.

Now a military trainer, Randy will be going in for a follow-up colonoscopy on Friday, April 6, again at the Bethesda facility. Because he now faces a higher-than-average risk of developing more polyps, a traditional colonoscopy is the best choice this time around.

Randy Williams' story illustrates the importance of access to advanced imaging services, which are integral to the early detection of diseases such as colorectal cancer.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 30,000 colorectal cancer deaths each year could be prevented if all individuals ages 50 and older were screened regularly. Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States, despite having a 90 percent cure rate when detected early. Moreover, data has found that African Americans are far less likely to get colonoscopies than other populations and have a 48 percent higher mortality rate from colon cancer than white Americans.

The good news is that recent peer-reviewed research by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN) examining the efficacy of computed tomographic colonography (CTC) for Americans ages 65 and older proves that the "virtual colonoscopy" is comparably effective to standard colonoscopy in detecting colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps in Medicare-eligible aged beneficiaries.

In addition, data collected by the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, shows that access to virtual colonoscopy raises screening levels. According to Dr. Brooks Cash, Integrated Chief of Medicine and Staff Gastroenterologist at the National Naval Medical Center/Walter Reed Army Medical Center, when given the option, 40 percent of patients chose to undergo virtual colonoscopy. Moreover, 37 percent of patients who underwent colon cancer screening said they would not have been screened without virtual colonoscopy.

To find out more about colorectal cancer and screening options, including virtual colonoscopy:

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