July 8, 2010
Access to Virtual Colonoscopy Can Help Address Screening Gap
CTC Working Group echoes CDC call for additional screening to improve public health
Washington, D.C. -- The CTC Working Group, a coalition of physician providers, colon cancer patient advocates and imaging technology manufacturers, today echoed the Centers for Disease Control's call for added colon cancer screening and reiterated its support for increased access to non-invasive procedures, such as CT colonography (CTC) -- often called virtual colonoscopy -- to facilitate increased screening rates.
While the CTC Working Group is encouraged that screening rates rose from 52 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2008, more remains to be done for the tens of thousand who die needlessly each year from colon cancer -- one of the most preventable, detectable and curable types of cancer when caught through recommended screening. Screening rates are still far too low, especially among certain populations, including African Americans and Hispanics, as well as those with low income and education and those without health insurance.
"CT Colongraphy is a way to increase screening rates. Study after study has proven its potential to expand screening to people that otherwise would not be screened," said James H. Thrall, MD, FACR, chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors. "The bottom line is that millions of Americans are continuing to forgo screening with traditional colonoscopy Virtual colonoscopy can be a life-saving option for those people because it is just as effective as traditional colonoscopy but is less expensive, minimally invasive, requires no sedation and has fewer potential complications."
Data collected by the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD demonstrates that access to CTC 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.
A similar effect has been seen at the University of Wisconsin, where overall screening rates for colorectal cancer have more than doubled per quarter over a five-year period, following the introduction of virtual colonoscopy as an additional screening option.
"With 22 million adults over 50 still not being screened, we can't cut any corners or eliminate any options that enable more people to be screened for colon cancer," said CTC Working Group member Andrew Spiegel, CEO of the Colon Cancer Alliance. "Barriers created by the federal government and insurance companies that are stymieing patient access to effective and life-saving screening options need to be addressed expeditiously."
In addition to increasing screening rates, CTC is proven to be as effective as traditional colonoscopy at detecting colorectal polyps and cancer, and is more effective than flexible sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood tests, the other two tests recommended by CDC in its report. A 2008 multi-site national CTC trial by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network found that CTC is comparable to standard colonoscopy in its ability to accurately detect cancer and precancerous polyps. The study was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. "It's time we employ all the tools we have to fight this disease and save lives," said Dave Fisher, CTC Working Group member and Executive Director of the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA).
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 51,000 Americans are expected to die of colon cancer this year, while nearly 103,000 new cases will be diagnosed. 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. By increasing screening rates for those at the greatest risk of colorectal cancer, those over the age of 50, a great majority of these cancers and deaths could be prevented.