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Getting screened for colorectal cancer is important for the prevention and early detection of the disease. However, too many Americans who should be screened are failing to do so. In 2010, only 59% of Americans who should have been screened for colorectal cancer were, compared to 67% for breast cancer and 76% for cervical cancer.

During an optical colonoscopy, required every 10 years, a doctor inserts a scope into the colon to detect and remove small polyps that could potentially develop into cancer. The procedure itself is relatively easy but some shy away because of the colonoscopy prep that requires drinking laxatives in order to empty the bowels. A virtual colonoscopy, required every 5 years, still requires bowel cleansing, but is less invasive and only involves a CT scan.

The new method is an alternative for those people who are not getting tested because of the prep involved with either a standard optical or virtual colonoscopy. Patients are given a contrast dye a day or so before the procedure that “tags” the feces in their colon. The patient then has a virtual colonoscopy: the feces can be identified and digitally removed from the CT image. The Annals of Internal Medicine recently released a report that found a laxative-free virtual colonoscopy to be almost as effective as an optical colonoscopy at identifying larger-sized polyps.

The American Cancer Society has embraced the new virtual colonoscopy but the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has not due to concerns about unnecessary exposure to radiation. There are also other non-invasive tests for colorectal cancer that do not require bowel cleansing. “The best test is the one that gets done,” according to Joanne Schottinger from Kaiser Permanente.

Read the full MSNBC article.