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What is the procedure of virtual colonoscopy?

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With a virtual colonoscopy, the patient completes a prescribed bowel cleansing procedure, drinks a contrast medium and reports to the hospital. A radiologist inflates the colon, and a table moves the patient into a tube for a computerized tomography (CT) scan, according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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A virtual colonoscopy uses diagnostic imaging to create a three-dimensional image of the lower gastrointestinal tract, explains WebMD. The virtual procedure eliminates the need for inserting the scope into the colon, although a small tube is still inserted to inflate the colon, reports The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

As of February 2015, WebMD indicates the virtual colonoscopy remains under investigation to determine if it is as accurate as the standard colonoscopy. While it is safer and does not require sedation, not all insurance companies approve the procedure. If the virtual colonoscopy reveals polyps, the patient requires a regular colonoscopy to remove tissue for a biopsy.

The virtual colonoscopy includes some risks. Because the CT scan uses X-rays, it exposes the patient to radiation. The levels of radiation are low, but the exposure level that leads to cancer remains unknown. Inflating the colon includes the risk of perforation, which sometimes requires surgery, indicates The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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