February 23, 2012
Colon Cancer Alliance and American College of Radiology: Medicare Must Make Virtual Colonoscopy Coverage a Reality for Seniors
Virtual Colonoscopy Accuracy Proven Comparable to Standard Colonoscopy in Seniors Ages 65 and Older – Time for Medicare to Act
Washington, DC — The largest study of the efficacy of virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography) in Americans ages 65 and older, published online Feb. 23 in Radiology, has confirmed the “virtual” exam is comparably effective to standard colonoscopy at detecting colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps in older seniors. Due to these results, those of a landmark 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine involving patients ages 50 and older, and the multitude of trials with similar positive outcomes since, the Colon Cancer Alliance and American College of Radiology call on Medicare to cover seniors for virtual colonoscopy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 30,000 colorectal cancer deaths each year could be prevented if all those age 50 and older were screened regularly. However, roughly one-third of those who should be screened for colorectal cancer — the nation’s second leading cancer killer — never get tested. This is particularly true among minorities where screening rates are much lower. Studies at National Naval Medical Center facilities in Bethesda, MD, and San Diego have shown that availability of the virtual exam significantly boosted colorectal cancer screening rates — a vital step to saving more lives.
“The minimal invasiveness and lower cost of CT colonography can attract more seniors to be screened if Medicare will cover them for the exam. Many seniors, who might not get tested otherwise, can’t afford the added cost of paying for the exam themselves and may ultimately pay with their lives if Medicare does not provide coverage,” said Andrew Spiegel, Colon Cancer Alliance Chief Executive officer.
The “virtual” colonoscopy uses high-tech, low-dose X-rays to produce three-dimensional, moving images of the colon. The virtual exam is far less invasive than standard colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy doesn’t require sedation. Afterward, people can go back to daily activities. In particular, elderly Americans who are frail or who have other medical problems will find that this test is easier for them to undergo.
“CT colonography is endorsed by the American Cancer Society as a recommended screening test. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Technology Evaluation Center (TEC) named virtual colonoscopy an effective screening tool. CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and other insurers cover screening virtual colonoscopy. Yet, Medicare refuses to cover seniors for this life-saving exam. All the while, thousands die needlessly each year from a disease that is nearly always treatable when caught early. This must change,” said Judy Yee, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Colon Cancer Committee.
To arrange an interview with Dr. Yee or another ACR spokesperson, please contact Shawn Farley at 703-648-8936 or PR@acr.org. To speak with Mr. Spiegel, please call 202-628-0123, ext. 105.
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The Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) is a community that provides hope and support to patients and their families, while saving lives through screening, access, awareness, advocacy and research. www.ccalliance.org
The American College of Radiology (ACR), one of the world’s largest medical specialty associations, is devoted to making medical imaging and radiation oncology safe, effective and accessible through its efforts in advocacy, education, clinical research, and quality and safety standards. Its 34,000 members include radiologists, radiation oncologists, and medical physicists. www.acr.org