NHS to trial ‘Capsule Cameras’ to find signs of bowel cancer

The NHS is set to use the 'PillCams' to locate gut-related diseases using less invasive methods. Source: DarkoStojanovic (via Pixabay)
Miniature cameras encapsulated in the form of a pill, called PillCams, are being considered as a potential, less invasive screening method for bowel cancer, as well as other diseases related to the gut.

By Umaima Arif  | Contributor

Bowel cancer is the result of an uncontrolled replication of mutated cells within the bowels, interfering with normal bodily functions and causing painful symptoms such as blood in the urine, bloating in the lower areas of the stomach, and drastic changes in bowel movements. Depending on where it starts, bowel cancer may also be referred to as rectal or colon cancer. Currently, bowel cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK, and claims the lives of about 160,000 people in the UK every year.

Fortunately, recent developments that aid early screening and prevention have been decreasing the number of deaths. According to Professor Peter Johnson, an NHS clinical director for cancer, a similar hope is applied to the invention of small cameras within pills that, upon swallowing, can show healthcare professionals the insides of the gut and help determine the presence of cancerous growths. The PillCams may also be useful in detecting Crohn’s disease.

Normally, bowel cancer is screened using colonoscopy and upper endoscopy; colonoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached up the anus, and endoscopy involves inserting a tube down the throat. However, this procedure can be invasive, uncomfortable, painful  and time-consuming. As such, the PillCams provide an equally effective means of screening that may be less invasive and more time-efficient, especially since this will bypass the need to wait long to get an appointment for the colonoscopy procedure and enable patients to undergo this screening at home – The NHS has recently outlined the procedure and use of ‘Pill Cameras’ for patients in an extensive e-booklet.

As the cameras travel throughout the digestive tract, they capture two pictures per second, providing ample views and angles for which to look for the cancer and other potential disease. These images are then stored in a data recorder, which will be kept with the patient during the process.

Across about 40 areas of England alone, approximately 11,000 patients are about to partake in initial trials for the PillCams.

These kinds of Pillcams have already seen successful use in private healthcare practices across several US states and, following numerous evaluations of the technology, are set to become more common in Europe and other parts of the world. Their success in other countries has remained fairly similar and, as such, the devices are currently under new development to see how else they could be used. 

Though the implications and possible disadvantages of this new technology have yet to be considered, there are high hopes that the PillCams will reduce wait times, ensure patient comfort, and effectively catch signs of bowel cancer or other potential diseases in their earlier stages, enabling early treatment and possibly a lower mortality rate as a consequence.

Science and Technology

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