Pillcam: Will it Make Colonoscopies Easier?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD
Will the New FDA-Approved PillCam Help Make Colonoscopies Easier in the Future?
The Food and Drug Administration approved a little device called the PillCam. The patient swallows a pill that has a tiny digital camera, it photographs the gastrointestinal system.

Colon And Rectal Polyp And Cancer Screening.

Colonoscopy is a screening tool that receives its share of derision and jokes about how uncomfortable it is. Nevertheless, with so many public service announcements from well known celebrities, telling touting the importance of a colonoscopy, it’s finally becoming a more serious subject. But for those who still absolutely refuse to go through the process, what can be done to make things easier? While options like virtual colonoscopy are available now, will a new tiny device end up becoming the standard for inspecting the colon in the future?  This is important for all patients in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.  Your colon and rectal surgeon, also known as a proctologist, can tell you more about colon and rectal screening.

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What is the PillCam?

In February, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved a little device called the PillCam.  The PillCam has already been in use in evaluation the small intestine, an area of the gastrointestinal tract notoriously difficult to evaluate.  Using a PillCam in the colon is a step forward.  It is not a screening test for the average person.  It can be used in those who absolutely refuse any other evaluation.  It may provide needed information which will allow for further testing and evaluation.

If you think placing a tiny camera in a pill is fairly ingenious, you are correct. You can thank a company in Israel for creating it and pursuing approval for its use.   The FDA has taken over a decade to grant final approval. The technology has been around for quite some time. However perfecting the technology of being able to swallow a pill with a tiny digital camera which photographs the gastrointestinal system has taken time to improve and test.

You can also see why the FDA took so long to approve it considering that it is a foreign object placed in the body. Regardless, the camera is so small and protected within the body of the pill that it is now known to not cause harm to anything internal.

Traveling Through the Body and Taking Pictures

Anyone who has seen the classic 1960’s sci-fi movie “Fantastic Voyage” may understand the concept of travelling through the body.  However, today we can do this using a small camera inside of a pill, rather than shrinking human beings in order to make the voyage, as in the movie. Once the PillCam is swallowed, it takes roughly eight hours to journey to the colon where it then photographs and relays pictures to a receiver that the patient wears. Doctors study the photographs in order to look for polyps or any signs of cancer in the colon.

What makes this particularly exciting to some is that it is  a much less expensive process compared to the standard colonoscopy. However, the image quality in the pill is noted for being of a lesser quality compared with the images used in a standard colonoscopy. This is why the PillCam is only approved for a narrow range of uses, and not for general screening.

How Many Will Use PillCam?

The number of users is unknown.  It seems to be in the early stages of clinical use. Colonoscopy remains the gold standard in the evaluation of the colon.  Other techniques involve a barium enema or a virtual colonoscopy.  Both involve X-ray images and are approved for screening.  However, if polyps are found, or there are areas requiring a biopsy, a follow up colonoscopy, and a second bowel preparation will be needed.  Work is ongoing to improve the colonoscopy bowel preparation, making the overall experience easier.

One of the main drawbacks of the Pillcam is that it does not allow for tissue diagnosis. With a standard colonoscopy, anything that is suspicious can be either biopsied, removed or visualized with different refractions of light. Suspicious sites can be marked with ink to aid in easy identification in the future. These critical aspects of endoscopic medicine are unavailable with the PillCam.

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

Surgeons at Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are trained and certified in the most current colon evaluation techniques and treatments.  The evaluations and treatments are performed in our offices, in nearby surgical centers, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles or Olympia Medical Center.  A visit to our offices in Beverly Hills or Culver City will allow patients to begin the path to treatment.  (310)273-2310.

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