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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;

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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