The University of Wisconsin Medical School study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared virtual colonoscopies of 3,120 adults with an average age of 57, and the traditional colonoscopies of 3,163 adults with an average age of 58.
The latter exam is routinely recommended in patients over 50 years of age to locate intestinal polyps and removing them, aiming to stop the spread of cancer as colon cancer is among the deadliest forms of the disease. In the United States alone it kills 55,000 people a year.
Traditional colonoscopies are normally performed under general anesthetic, with a thin flexible tube called a colonoscope inserted through the anus to explore the intestines.
Biopsies and many abnormal growths can be taken out during the procedure which requires the patient to first drink four liters of liquid.
Virtual colonoscopy requires some injection of air. The removal of any polyps found requires a separate procedure.
The study found almost the same number of advanced neoplasms (over 6 mm): 123 with virtual colonoscopy and 121 with the traditional procedure.