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Supercomputer 'Virtual Cleanse' Aims To Ease Colonoscopy Preparation

Image processing technologies being tested by Massachusetts General Hospital intend to take the yuck factor out of colorectal cancer screenings.

This advancement opens the door to higher-volume cancer screenings, especially for squeamish patients who have avoided having a traditional colonoscopy because of the dreaded prep. The advanced imaging processing power of the HPC platform could be offered via the cloud, and utilize CT images from hospitals' existing CT colonography gear, said Steve Aylward, general manager of Microsoft's health and life sciences.

A big advantage of virtual colonoscopies is the cost, ranging from about $300 to $800, compared with about $2,000 to $3,000 for traditional colonoscopies.

Yet despite the cost disparities, you might be surprised that many payers -- including large ones like Medicare, typically don't cover virtual colonoscopies, said Yoshida. That's likely because virtual colonoscopy patients who are found to have polyps or other suspicious lesions must undergo a second procedure for final diagnosis and treatment -- the traditional colonoscopy.

Still, the majority of screenings result in normal findings, and most patients don't need a second procedure, said Yoshida.

The laxative-free virtual colonoscopies are being demonstrated and tested now at Mass General, but are expected to be available to more of the hospital's patients next year, Yoshida said.

"This is a safer procedure for the patient, there's no risk of perforation, there's no sedation, and there's no laxative," Yoshida said. "The problem with colon cancer screenings now is that they are time consuming, and expensive," which inhibits mass volume testing, he said.

In case you're wondering, the American Cancer Society lists CT colonography -- or virtual colonoscopies -- among its four recommended options for colorectal cancer screening.

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