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Easier, Safer Colon Cancer Test?

Cutting-Edge Technologies Promise Less Discomfort, More Accurate Results

Video Pill Catches Cancerous Growths continued...

Then, there's the convenience. After a patient swallows the pill with a sip of water, he goes about his business. The images are transmitted via radio frequency to a data recording device worn on the waist. After seven hours, the patient comes back in, and the doctors download the data to a computer for analysis. In time, the pill passes on its own.

"It doesn't hurt, and no sedation is needed," Swain says. The bottom line: "Patients like it and come in to have it, unlike colonoscopy."

While other researchers praise the new approach, they pointed out there are some obstacles to be overcome. The biggest problem: You still need a colonoscopy if abnormal growths are found.

During a colonoscopy abnormal growths can be removed, explains Jonathan Leighton, MD, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Finding a way to make the capsule have these therapeutic capabilities could prove difficult," he says.

Nevertheless, Leighton says he foresees a day when inventors figure out how to use an external radio control device to cut out the growths. "It's not science fiction," he tells WebMD, "just a matter of time."

Modified Scope Reduces Discomfort

Other researchers have modified the traditional colonoscope so as to reduce discomfort and risk to the patient.

"Most of the discomfort associated with the device is related to the need for the doctor to push the instrument from outside," says Moshe Shike, MD, an attending physician in the department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "This causes much pain, stretches the colon, and increases the risk of perforation."

Working with researchers at the Sightline Corporation in Israel, Shike developed the ColonoSight to address the issues. The device, which has been approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA, uses a pneumatic mechanism to pull the device into the colon.

"The mechanism at the tip pulls the scope forward, much like an engine pulls a train," Shike tells WebMD. The result: Less discomfort and a lower risk of puncturing the colon. Also, less anesthesia is required for the procedure.

ColonoSight utilizes a disposable sheath, which lowers the chance infections will be spread from patient to patient, he says. Plus, it eliminates the need for disinfection between procedures, saving time and money.

In studies on 72 patients, there were no complications, Shike says. Like the traditional colonoscope, the device can be used to remove polyps.

"It's very important that while we are working on new technologies that people continue to undergo colonoscopy," he cautions. "Yes, it's a little embarrassing but compared to the ability to save lives, that's a very small price to pay."

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