Colon cancer screening: As easy as swallowing a pill?

Colon cancer screening: As easy as swallowing a pill?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for men and women, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance. But, if caught early enough through screening, it’s possible to prevent it.

“Screening for colon cancer – when recommended – can prevent the disease by detecting polyps early or can help determine a treatment plan to achieve the best possible outcome,” says Dr. Joaquin Estrada, a colon and rectal surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.

A colonoscopy is a common and effective form of screening, but for those whom a colonoscopy is not recommended, technology continues to advance.

“We now have access to a new screening method, a pill with a camera at each end that’s about the size of a multi-vitamin and can show us a general vicinity of where a polyp is within the colon,” says Dr. Estrada. “If a polyp is found, a colonoscopy will still be necessary to remove it, but this procedure is a good diagnostic tool for people who may not be a good candidate for colonoscopy.”

Here’s how it works: a person swallows the pill, and it passes through the body. While in the colon, the pill transmits images to a transponder worn on the person’s outside. Eventually, the pill passes all the way through and gets flushed down the toilet. A physician then analyzes the images from the transponder. The only downside: this procedure requires the same prep work as a colonoscopy.

No matter the method, it’s important that you consult your physician and get screened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend screening at age 50, but suggest screening sooner if you have a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer or have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Take our Colorectal Health Assessment to determine your estimated lifetime risk.

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6 Comments

  1. When will there be pills to flush a patient out that is not the horrible liquid prep?

  2. al weiss, md ret. August 10, 2017 at 12:30 pm · Reply

    when available/? projected total cost(pill plus interpretation) estimated false pos. results.

  3. Come on…why show an image of an air contrast barium enema? On film at that…(we’ve all been digital for a long while) That reminds me of episodes of House, where Dr. House does the MRI himself…or episodes of ER, where they hang the x-rays upside down. Drives me nuts.

  4. During a colonoscopy, polyps can also be removed and biopsied for cancer. This camera pill is less invasive, but if polyps are found the standard procedure will be necessary to remove and biopsy them. I really see no great benefit to the camera pill, except for those that cannot undergo the standard colonoscopy procedure. An Mri with a contrast indicator accomplishes the same as the camera pill, but at present the cost is considerable for the extremely brief time you spend imaging. I’ll stick to the old procedure, the liquid prep is not that much of a trial …. I do end up very hungry and thirsty however.

  5. Arlene Lencioni August 11, 2017 at 8:42 am · Reply

    This may not be necessary for the vast number of people’ who can safely have a colonoscopy, but it is a blessing for those people who are too ill or elderly to have one safely. In my family, we just lost an elderly relative because he decided to have a colonoscopy and suffered a punctured colon in the process. It was probably an unwise decision on his part, given his general health. I understand that the body is more fragile and more susceptible to these types of punctures and tears as it ages. If he had had this type of test, he would be here today.

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About the Author

Brittany Hunter
Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter, health enews contributor, is a specialist of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. She has a degree in Journalism from Ohio University and experience in communications, marketing and public strategies. She loves going to concerts, reading and exploring the city.

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