According to a study in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, Medicare coverage and nationwide utilization of computed tomographic colonography (CTC)—commonly referred to as virtual colonoscopy—has tripled in recent years. CTC is an alternative to conventional optical colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis.

Researchers found that between 2005 and 2008, annual claims for diagnostic CTC for Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries increased by 195% (from 3,660 to 10,802). Most services were performed in office and outpatient hospital settings, with only a small number in the inpatient hospital and other miscellaneous settings.

“Several well-designed multicenter trials now corroborate the results of an earlier landmark trial demonstrating equivalent performance of conventional optical colonoscopy and CTC in screening for cancer and precancerous polyps,” said Richard Duszak Jr., MD, lead author of the study. “The rapid expansion of the use of diagnostic CTC, even in the absence of Medicare coverage for screening CTC, speaks volumes to the need of an alternative exam for those who choose not to undergo colonoscopy. As more insurers provide coverage for CTC, access to CTC is likely to expand.”