The disposable device take more than 57,000 pictures as it works its way through the digestive tract, replacing uncomfortable endoscopies
Swallowable cameras the size of capsules will be given to NHS patients in a “sci-fi” bid to check for cancer.
Taking more than 57,000 pictures as they work through the digestive system, the disposable devices are intended to replace complicated and uncomfortable endoscopies.
They will be handed out initially to 11,000 patients in more than 40 locations in England.
NHS leaders hope the revolutionary devices will help turn the tide of missed and late cancer diagnoses caused by disruption from the pandemic.
Users will wear an accompanying shoulder bag containing a data recorder, meaning they can carry on their lives as normal while the camera is at work. Known as colon camera endoscopy, the technology can provide a diagnosis within hours.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said: “What sounds like sci-fi is now becoming a reality, and as these minute cameras pass through your body, they take two pictures per second checking for signs of cancer and other conditions like Crohn’s disease.”
Infection control measures required to make endoscopies Covid-secure mean they take much longer to do, which has reduced the number of people who can undergo the life-saving checks.
By contrast, the capsule endoscopy normally takes five to eight hours and provides full images of the bowel.
Despite NHS bosses in England insisting that cancer services were never formally suspended during the pandemic, there have been massive drops in referrals and screening numbers since the crisis began.
Analysis by Cancer Research UK in October estimated that three million patients had missed screenings since the start of the pandemic.
Oncologists have since reported a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with inoperable tumours because they weren’t detected earlier.
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.”
Meanwhile Dr Alastair McKinlay, President of The British Society of Gastroenterology, said: “Colon capsule is a promising new technology that may offer a real advantage for some patients. For this reason, we welcome the opportunity for a proper service evaluation so that both the limitations and advantages of this technique can be properly assessed.”