Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy is a minimally invasive exam to screen for cancer of the large intestine (colon). Virtual colonoscopy requires the same pre-test bowel preparation as colonoscopy. But virtual colonoscopy doesn’t require sedation or inserting a scope into the colon.

During virtual colonoscopy, a CT scan produces hundreds of cross-sectional images of your abdominal organs. The images are combined and digitally manipulated to provide a detailed view of the inside of the colon and rectum.

Virtual colonoscopy is an alternative to colonoscopy, but the new test doesn't mean you'll never have another colonoscopy. If virtual colonoscopy shows abnormalities in your colon, your doctor will typically recommend colonoscopy to learn more.


Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

Virtual colonoscopy is used to screen for colon cancer in people who are at least 50 years old and at average risk for the disease. Studies have shown that virtual colonoscopy has detection rates similar to colonoscopy for cancer and most types of polyps. Similarly, virtual colonoscopy is as accurate as colonoscopy for people at average risk of colon cancer, including people over age 65.

Virtual colonoscopy also screens for an enlargement of the major blood vessel in the abdomen (abdominal aortic aneurysm).

Your doctor may suggest virtual colonoscopy if you:

  • Are reluctant to have colonoscopy
  • Are at risk for colonoscopy complications, such as excess bleeding because blood that doesn't clot normally
  • Have a bowel obstruction

You aren't a candidate for virtual colonoscopy if you have:

  • A history of colon cancer or abnormal tissue clumps (polyps) in your colon
  • A family history of colon cancer or colon polyps
  • Chronic inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Acute diverticulitis

Because virtual colonoscopy provides images of the entire abdominal and pelvic area, problems unrelated to colon cancer — such as a kidney tumor — might be found as well. Virtual colonoscopy may also be used to monitor small or very small polyps.

Insurers vary in their coverage of virtual colonoscopy. Coverage should be checked before scheduling the procedure.

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use