Why it's done

Virtual colonoscopy is used to screen for colon cancer in people who are at least 50 years old and at average risk of the disease.

Your doctor may suggest virtual colonoscopy if you:

  • Are reluctant to have colonoscopy
  • Are at risk of colonoscopy complications, such as excess bleeding because your blood 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

Studies have shown that virtual colonoscopy has detection rates similar to traditional colonoscopy for cancer and most types of polyps. Some polyps, including small ones, may be less likely to be detected with virtual colonoscopy.

Because virtual colonoscopy involves imaging the entire abdominal and pelvic area, problems unrelated to colon cancer — such as an abnormality in the kidney, liver or pancreas that may or may not be important — could potentially be detected. This may lead to additional testing.