This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
A colonoscopy is a life-saving procedure, identifying polyps and early-stage tumors so they can be removed before they grow and spread. But many people refuse to undergo the procedure because they don't relish having an endoscope inserted into their body, and they don't like the preparation for the procedure, which requires drinking laxatives and spending large amounts of time in the lavatory the night before.
The first problem has been overcome in part by the advent of the virtual colonoscopy, in which a CT scan is used to survey the interior of the intestines from outside the body. But even virtual colonoscopy requires the use of laxatives to clean out the bowels beforehand. New research reported Monday, however, suggests that — at least for some people — the procedure can be performed without laxatives and diarrhea.
The key to the new procedure is an iodine agent that patients drink in small doses for two days prior to the procedure. Combined with a low-fiber diet, the agent binds to the feces in the bowel. When the CT is performed, technicians can electronically remove feces from the image, allowing doctors a clearer view of the bowel itself. The procedure is not for everyone, particularly those who have colon-cancer symptoms or are at high risk, but it could increase the number of patients who actually undergo a colonoscopy and reduce the death toll. Currently, about 50,000 deaths from colon cancer are tallied in the United States each year, making it the second leading cause of cancer deaths.