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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the September 17, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Health Watch: Colon Cancer
A virtual colonoscopy system developed by Siemens Corporate
Research (SCR) at 755 College Road has just received FDA approval.
Bernhard Geiger led the team that worked for 10 years to develop
the 44th product for Siemens’ Syngo MRT imaging system — an advanced
and painless technology to aid in the early detection of colon cancer.
Since the Syngo virtual scanning system was unveiled three years ago,
Siemens has installed 10,000 systems worldwide (609-734-6500; www.scr.siemens.com).
Cancer of the colon is the third most common cancer in adults and
is the second leading cause of death due to cancer. More than 150,000
new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States.
About 60 percent of colon cancer cases turn out to be untreatable,
but up to 90 percent of them could be prevented by an early diagnosis
of the polyps. But the traditional proctoscopy screening can be onerous
— inserting an endoscope with an attached camera into the colon
of a patient under general anesthesia.
"That we’re now receiving FDA approval is extremely gratifying,"
says Siemens’ Geiger. A 1989 graduate of the University of Karlsruhe
in Germany, he has a PhD from the Ecoles des Mines and INRIA in France,
and has worked at Siemens in Princeton since 1995.
Geiger’s first paper on virtual colonoscopies was published in
the early pioneering years of the technology, in 1994. "I have
been working for 10 years now on the topic of virtual endoscopy, starting
as a postdoctoral fellow at INRIA, then from 1995 to now at Siemens
Corporate Research in Princeton." In 1998 Siemens Medical Systems
in Iselin introduced an earlier "virtual fly through system"
(U.S. 1, November 18, 1998).
A 30-minute traditional colonoscopy goes through five feet of the
large colon and is usually done with general anesthesia. In comparison,
the flexible sigmoidoscopy test sees only one-third of the colon.
A barium enema shows the entire colon but reveals only shapes, not
In Siemens’ "virtual fly through" of the colon, magnetic resonance
tomography (MRT) captures cross-sections of the human body. Then a
computer combines the individual images to create a three-dimensional
view of the patient’s intestinal tract. The Syngo Colonography processing
software enables the doctor to make a simulated journey, looking for
intestinal polyps in the patient’s colon. The three-dimensional view
reveals folds or constrictions of the intestines that a traditional
colonoscopy may not detect, says Geiger.
Virtual colonoscopies using a competing technology are already available
now at Princeton Longevity Institute, which uses a GE Imatron EBT
(electronic beam tomography) scanner (609-430-0752). David Fein, director
of the institute on Vreeland Drive in Skillman, says that colonoscopy
patients are on the table for five to 10 minutes for two scans, each
under one minute.
Fein’s center charges $1,200 for a virtual colonoscopy, which he compares
to the cost of a surgical colonoscopy, which can cost from $2,000
to $3,000 plus the fee for general anesthesia.
Opponents of the virtual method say that, if polyps are found, the
patient will have to go through the process again, this time surgically.
Fein points out that preparation is easier for the virtual test, which
does not require a total fast. Patients are given digitally tagged
food that can be "subtracted" from the scanned image.
— Barbara Fox
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