I'm a 53 year old woman. My doctor told me I should get screened for colon cancer. What about virtual colonoscopy?
Your doctor is absolutely right. Colon cancer is the 3rd most common malignancy in both men and women. In women without a family history or predisposing condition, colon cancer screening should begin at the age of 50.
Currently, there are several ways to screen for colon cancer. One is annual fecal blood testing--checking bowel movements for blood. Though this is inexpensive and can be done at home, it is probably not the best stand-alone test. Other options include colonoscopy (every ten years), barium enema (every 5 years), flexible sigmoidoscopy (a more limited colonoscopy--done every 5 years), or flexible sigmoidoscopy - plus annual fecal occult blood testing. The American Cancer Society recommends this last screening regimen. Though many people complain about colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy because of the bowel prep (a liquid that helps empty the bowel), this is necessary to get an unobstructed view of the colon. Your primary care provider can help you decide on an appropriate screening plan.
The "new test" is called virtual colonoscopy--a special CT scan of the abdomen. Though this may hold promise in the future, a bowel prep is still required - and if abnormalities are seen, a follow-up colonoscopy may still be necessary. It is not considered a primary screening strategy for colon cancer at this time.