Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and will cause 56,700 deaths in 2001, despite the availability of screening tests capable of detecting the disease at earlier stages and reducing mortality. This article reviews the natural history of colorectal cancer, common risk factors and prevention strategies, and the strengths, limitations, and cost effectiveness of available screening tests. Although reminders to undergo colorectal cancer screening have become commonplace in the popular media, compliance with screening guidelines remains poor. Although still an unproven technology for widespread screening, computed tomographic (CT) colonography has several attractive characteristics for a screening test. For example, CT scanners are widely available, in contrast to limited numbers of gastroenterologists and radiologists' declining skill and interest in barium enema examinations. Also, patients may be less reluctant to undergo CT colonography than screening colonoscopy. Development of virtual bowel cleansing could further increase compliance and thereby reduce mortality from colorectal cancer. Other articles in this Feature Section discuss technical details of CT colonography and its methodologic challenges.
Colorectal cancer screening issues: a role for CT colonography?