'Capsule camera' help in bowel cancer diagnosis

11 March 2021, 06:20

The miniature camera, shown for size reference next to a pen
The miniature camera, shown for size reference next to a pen. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Thousands of NHS patients are going to be given a camera which is small enough to swallow to help check if they have bowel cancer.

The device is the size of a pill and takes two photos per second as it passes through the body.

The health service in England is trialling the use of the cameras as a diagnostic tool.

The technology - a colon capsule endoscopy - can provide a diagnosis in hours and patients can be being examined while they go about their daily lives, saving the need for an invasive diagnostic test in hospital.

The head of the NHS said that the "ingenious" cameras will allow more people to get cancer tests quickly and safely.

The so-called capsule cameras will be trialled in 11,000 patients at 40 different sites across England.

Traditional endoscopies mean patients need to attend hospital and have a tube inserted whereas the new technology means that people can go about their normal day.

And infection control procedures mean at present fewer traditional endoscopies are being carried out.

But the new technology means that the tests can be sped up and conducted in the comfort of a patient's home.

The camera takes two photos per second and takes pictures of the bowel as it passes through.

It can help spot conditions including bowel cancer and Crohn's disease.

The whole process takes between five and eight hours.

The tool provides full images of the bowel with information sent to a data recorder in a shoulder bag.

Professor Peter Johnson, clinical director for cancer for the NHS in England, added: "From the cutting edge technology of these colon capsules to Covid protected hubs and chemo home deliveries, the NHS has fast tracked new ways of treating and diagnosing cancer - all while responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Endoscopy services continue and thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, cancer treatment and referrals have come back to usual levels, with more than 25,000 people treated for cancer in December and more than 200,000 coming forward for checks - 13,000 more than the previous year.

"The NHS message to anyone experiencing symptoms is clear - do not delay, help us to help you by coming forward for care - the NHS is ready and able to treat you."

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, says: "This has the potential to make a huge difference for people with bowel cancer symptoms and could help the NHS to prioritise those who urgently need further tests."