The traditional colonoscopy uses a small camera attached to a long, flexible tube. A technician inserts the tube camera into the rectum and through the colon--a process that many people find uncomfortable. Due to the level of discomfort, people often have to be sedated to go through the procedure.
The virtual colonoscopy uses a computerized tomography (CT) machine or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to take digital images of the abdomen from outside the body. Since these are non-invasive imaging techniques, patients usually don’t have to be sedated to endure the procedure.
The average colonoscopy takes approximately 30 minutes, because the technician has to be careful how he moves the scope in and out of the colon. The less invasive virtual colonoscopy takes approximately 10 minutes.
Shorter Recovery Time
Because the traditional colonoscopy requires some form of sedation, the patient needs time after the procedure to recover from the drugs. The patient may also need someone to accompany him to the appointment and drive him home.
The virtual colonoscopy requires no sedation, so the patient can leave shortly after the examination and drive herself/himself home.
The traditional colonoscopy requires your colon to be as clean and clear as possible. You will need to stop eating a certain number of hours before the procedure, take a laxative and use an enema to completely empty your colon.
The virtual colonoscopy requires you to stop eating a number of hours before the procedure and take a laxative to clear some fecal matter from your bowels, but you don’t need to administer an enema. You might also need to take a drug that helps the machine differentiate any remaining fecal matter from the walls of your colon.
The traditional colonoscopy only screens the colon and rectum, while the virtual colonoscopy screens the entire abdomen, which means it can detect any other abdominal anomalies that may be present.
Whether you go with a traditional colonoscopy, or the virtual colonoscopy, the Centers for Disease control recommend you receive some kind of colorectal screening every 10 years, starting at age 50.
People with a high risk for colorectal cancer, such as those with a strong family history of cancer, or those with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, should be screened at more frequent intervals, starting at a younger age. The age and frequency depends on the type of risk. For example, individuals with inflammatory bowel disease should start screening 8 years after the initial onset of the disease, and repeat the screening once every one-to-two years.