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A kinder, gentler colonoscopy?

A co-worker's been asking a lot of personal questions lately. See, he's reached a certain age, too. An age when the medical industry seems to take a sudden interest in you — especially what's inside you.

The industry develops this overwhelming need to probe your inner depths, put you through all kinds of tests, just to make sure you'll be around long enough to eventually cost the system a fortune.

Now, most of these tests are a snap for the average person. Not so for those of us who get light-headed even looking at a picture of anything that — in the hands of a doctor — could be used to mess with the way nature meant your body to be.

High on that list is the colonoscopy. Everyone's heard of it. Everyone dreads it. And with good reason. The thought of somebody in a white coat threading more hose than you'll find on a fire truck through your back door isn't exactly appealing. The invasive nature of the procedure has my colleague concerned.

I can understand that he's not looking forward to entering that waiting room — the one where you can tell who's in for which test. If — under their hospital gown — they're wearing something below the waist, you know the optical scope is going down the throat. If you can see their knees and they're nervously tapping their foot, the scope's taking an alternate route through the body.

Well, there's another option. A recent study suggests the virtual colonoscopy — or the three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) colonography — is as accurate as the old-fashioned procedure.

And that's important. According to Health Canada colon cancer is the third most common cancer. It kills more than 6,500 Canadians a year.

It's highly treatable if caught early. But, by the time you're exhibiting symptoms, the disease is already well established.

Not everyone's on the virtual colonoscopy bandwagon. Some gastro-intestinal doctors say the procedure may be a little too sensitive and may detect abnormalities where none exist.

The other advantage to the old invasive way of doing it is that if the scope detects something that shouldn't be there, it will remove it. No need for another procedure. If the virtual colonoscopy finds something, you have to go back and take it the old-fashioned way again.

Still, my co-worker shouldn't worry about the procedure. They recommend sedation. I concur — even though I've been known to be a little wobbly after undergoing a blood test or taking a needle in the arm.

All I remember is feeling a little sting in my hand and a voice telling me to roll on my side, "before you get too comfortable." When my eyes opened, I was in recovery.

The colonoscopy is a piece of cake. Getting ready for it — well, that's another matter.

Spending the evening before your test cleaning out your system by drinking — and then rapidly disposing of — four litres of a fluid that is cruelly mislabelled "new improved flavour" is truly an endurance event. Keep a good book — maybe a few — handy.

Virtual Klean-Prep: now that would be a breakthrough.

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