Milk could be used as cheaper contrast agent in some CT exams

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In research findings presented at RSNA 2006 today, radiologists are tested milk as a potential contrast agent in gastrointestinal imaging exams. So far, the results have been positive.
"We are able to achieve similar bowel distension and enhancement as we see with the commonly used contrast agent, VoLumen," said Lisa R. Shah-Patel, MD, a radiology resident at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. "In addition, we found that patients are more willing to drink milk because it is part of their daily lives, and they know what to expect."
CT imaging of the gastrointestinal tract is often done for abdominal pain. When the condition calls for visualization of the small intestinal wall, a negative oral contrast agent should be used, such as VoLumen a barium-based oral agent.
However, if milk is used the intestinal cavity appears dark, while the intestinal wall appears bright. The dark intestinal cavity contrasting with the bright intestinal wall makes any evidence of disease on the bowel wall easier to see.
For the study, 179 adult patients underwent CT with oral and intravenous contrast for abdominal discomfort to compare cost effectiveness and tolerance for whole milk as opposed to VoLumen. Of the patients, 62 received VoLumen while 117 received milk. Fifty-seven of the VoLumen patients completed a questionnaire following the exam. Of them, 42 percent experienced abdominal discomfort such as cramps, diarrhea and nausea, while just 23 percent of the 117 patients who received milk reported abdominal discomfort, according to a release of the findings.
Generally milk was found to be identically effective as VoLumen in bowel distension and bowel-wall enhancement. And milks is cheaper, with VoLumen costing $18 per patient, but whole milk costing only $1.39 per patient.
Dr. Shah-Patel noted a few other benefits of milk. "Patients are more willing to drink milk than VoLumen, and it costs a fraction of the price. We hope that substituting milk for other contrast agents will reduce the number of people who refuse imaging tests because they do not want to drink the oral contrast, especially children."