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Colonoscopy Technology Breakthrough

Photo by: Jason Meredith (Flickr)

I have yet to come across a patient who gets excited about a colonoscopy. In fact, most patients avoid them like the plague, even though they know the procedure is a crucial step in the prevention of colon cancer. I can't say that I blame my patients, and I'm sure you agree: There's nothing pleasant about a colonoscopy. Fortunately, some futuristic medicine has been approved by the FDA, and we all might breathe a little easier when the doctor says that it's time for a colonoscopy.

Currently, when a patient is prescribed a colonoscopy, they must endure a night of fasting and purging or several days of a liquid diet. The colon must be empty prior to the colonoscopy so the medical professionals have clear images of the inside of the organ. Patients are usually prescribed a heavy liquid and harsh laxative regimen, resulting in severe cleansing throughout the night before their colonoscopy. This is a very unpleasant and often painful and cramp-filled experience.

The colonoscopy itself consists of a small CCD or fiber-optic camera that is inserted via a 48-inch-to-72-inch-long tube into the patient's anus. The tube allows the doctor to push the camera up through the patient's colon so they can view the walls of the organ internally. During the procedure, doctors look for any abnormalities, including cancerous cells, polyps, and internal ulcerations or bleeding. The actual colonoscopy generally only takes approximately 10 minutes, and the patient is slightly sedated during the procedure.

Additional study of the findings and any necessary medical treatment and/or discussion with the patient extends the colonoscopy procedure to approximately 30 minutes. The patient is then held in outpatient recovery for an additional 30 to 60 minutes while the mild sedative wears off. Overall, many patients feel that a colonoscopy is 24 hours of severe unpleasantry! But what if you could tell your patients that they didn't have to endure the cleansing and colonoscopy procedure in order to protect themselves from colon cancer? Read on!

The FDA has just approved a "pill cam" for colon examinations. It surely sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, but the medical technology is real in today's world and the FDA gave it its stamp of approval. As you know, some patients cannot endure colonoscopies for one reason or another, and the pill cam is designed to be utilized for those patients who are unable to undergo the traditional colonoscopy procedure.

You probably don't need much explanation; how it works is quite straightforward. The patient swallows the PillCam Colon video capsule, designed by Given Imaging, an Israeli company, and then nature does the rest. As the video capsule travels through the patient's digestive system, the camera takes high-speed photos of what's going on inside for eight hours. The photos are transmitted to a recording device that the patient wears around their waist. I won't explain how the PillCam is disposed of -- I'm sure you've figured that out.

Aside from the technology itself, what I find most surprising about the PillCam is its cost. My initial reaction to this was concern that this technology will extend a significant cost increase to patients and insurance companies. But I was wrong. Surprisingly, at $500 a pill, the PillCam is significantly less expensive than a traditional colonoscopy procedure. This technology is more advanced and much cheaper.

For me, however, the primary concern remains my patients. I must say, I am excited about this new technology. It certainly appears that the colonoscopy of the future is far less intrusive and uncomfortable than the current version. If that encourages my patients to get their colonoscopies when, and as often, as they are supposed to, then I am extremely happy that these little camera pills have been developed!

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