A new tool is available to detect colorectal cancer, one of the nation’s deadliest cancers. Computed tomographic colongraphy (CTC), also known as “virtual” colonoscopy, is a minimally invasive alternative to the standard colonoscopy used to screen and diagnose colorectal cancer. With CTC, three-dimensional images of the colon and rectum are produced with the help of X-ray technology.

According to the Journal of the American College of Radiology, CTC is catching on, with a 5 percent increase in the number of hospitals offering the procedure from 2005 to 2008. Unlike standard colonoscopies, CTC does not require sedation and patients can resume normal daily activities immediately afterward. Some hospitals prefer CTC to screen frail or elderly patients and because it cuts down on the longer wait for the standard procedure. Unfortunately, Medicare does not yet pay for CTC, which can cost $1,100.

The best argument for wider adoption of CTC may be that it could persuade more patients to get screened for colorectal cancer, the third-most common cancer in the US. Despite a 90 percent cure rate when caught early, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, mainly because fewer than half of those over 50 receive screening for the disease, according to the American College of Radiology. The National Cancer Institute estimates that if CTC were widely adopted, it could save the lives of 20,000 Americans each year.