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Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy (VC) is a medical imaging examination of the colon. It is done in the radiology department. Unlike a traditional colonoscopy, no sedatives are needed and no colonoscope is used.


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What it is

Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy (VC) is an imaging or X-ray test that looks for cancer, polyps or other disease in the large intestine (colon).

Good to know

Differences between virtual and conventional colonoscopy include:

  • VC can view the colon from many different angles. This is not as easy with regular colonoscopy.
  • VC does not require sedation. You can usually go back to your normal activities right away after the test. Regular colonoscopy uses sedation and often the loss of a work day.
  • VC using computed tomography (CT) scanners expose you to a small amount of radiation.
  • Regular colonoscopy has a small risk of bowel perforation (creating a small tear). There is almost no such risk from VC.
  • VC is often not able to detect polyps smaller than 10 mm. Regular colonoscopy can detect polyps of all sizes.

VC may be done for the following reasons:

  • Follow-up on colon cancer or polyps
  • Abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements or weight loss
  • Anemia due to low iron
  • Blood in the stool or black, tarry stools
  • Screen for cancer of the colon or rectum (should be done every 5 years)
  • As follow-up when your doctor is not able to move the flexible tube all the way through the colon during a regular colonoscopy

Although VC offers some more comfortable options over regular colonoscopy, there are times your doctor will recommend a regular colonoscopy. For example, during a VC your doctor cannot remove tissue samples or polyps.


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Source: Allina Health Medical Imaging
Reviewed by: Allina Health Medical Imaging

First published: 8/12/2019
Last reviewed: 8/12/2019