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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Easier, Safer Colon Cancer Test?

Cutting-Edge Technologies Promise Less Discomfort, More Accurate Results

Video Pill Catches Cancerous Growths continued...

"We found all the pathology there was," he says. "The rest of the patients proved to have bleeding due to other causes, such as a small ulcer that healed on its own."

Traditional colonoscopy can miss about 10% of abnormal growths, while Swain estimates that the pill "probably misses as many as 20%."

But, he explains, "The pill can reach places a scope can't."

There are other advantages, too. Encased in a white plastic capsule, the camera can capture tens of thousands of images as it propels itself down the esophagus and stomach, through the small intestine, and into the colon.

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."

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