Patients prefer real colonoscopies to virtual ones

When a patient hears the word "colonoscopy," he starts looking for the door -- and that view of his rear end fleeing the room is usually about as close as a doctor will get to examining his backside.

People are just terrified by the procedure, and for no good reason. It's relatively painless and highly effective. It not only detects the growths that cause colon cancer, but also removes them.

No growths, no cancer -- and that's why people who get regular colonoscopies simply don't die of the disease.

But most patients don't even want to talk about it. It sounds painful... uncomfortable... and for some people, even a conversation about "butt health" can be a little embarrassing.

Some doctors have been pushing the less invasive "virtual" colonoscopy because patients seem to think it's a lot more comfortable -- but a new study shows that's not the case.

Researchers gave both procedures to 90 patients between the ages of 19 and 65 years old, and then asked them which one they preferred.

Turns out, the real deal beat "virtual" colonoscopy in just about every measure. Patients say they had less anxiety, less pain, and even liked the exam rooms better when they got the real colonoscopies.

That might sound a little counterintuitive, but remember that patients who get a real colonoscopy get sedated.

Patients who get the virtual procedure do not.

As a result, patients who get a real colonoscopy don't feel a thing (some even fall asleep). Patients who get a "virtual" one do -- and while the "virtual" name might make it sound like a procedure that takes place on a computer screen instead of in your body, that's not quite the case.

There's no scope in a virtual colonoscopy (unless polyps are detected), but a thin tube is put into the rectum so air can be pumped in. This inflates the colon and makes it easier to see.

It doesn't hurt. But patients say it's not the most comfortable thing in the world, either -- and that's reflected in the 69 percent of patients in the survey who said the real colonoscopy had less pain.

In addition, a full 77 percent said they would choose the real colonoscopy over the virtual procedure in the future.

In other words, the real procedure isn't nearly as bad as most people fear. But there are other reasons why I prefer the real deal to the virtual ones.

First, virtual colonoscopy a relatively new technology and there are still question marks over its effectiveness.

Second, and more importantly, it uses a CT scan -- and CT scans rely on radiation. It seems a little backwards to me to use cancer-causing radiation to detect and treat cancer... but then again, a lot of the cancer screenings and treatments out there are backwards.

Third, if you have polyps or a suspicious-looking lesion, you'll need to get another regular colonoscopy to biopsy the lesion -- leading to the very procedure you were trying to avoid in the first place

So skip the gimmicks, and along with "virtual" colonoscopies that means avoiding the less thorough (and cheaper) sigmoidoscopy. And definitely stay away from the up-and-coming procedure, the "laxative-free" colonoscopy -- because it's really just another version of the virtual colonoscopy.

Real colonoscopies are proven, and they work -- and they represent one of the best examples of mainstream medicine getting it right.

I don't see any reason to mess with success.

PS: If you have diabetes, be sure to start screening earlier -- at 40 instead of 50. New research shows that diabetics in their 40s have the same risk of precancerous colon growths as non-diabetics in their 50s. It's as if the disease ages the colon by an entire decade.