The Pill Camera: An Alternative to Colonoscopy

Aside from colonoscopy, there is a new technology that can screen colon cancer. The pill camera or the PillCam Colon 2, can be an alternative to colonoscopy. It is a disposable camera, the same size as a jelly bean pill, that the patient has to swallow. The pill camera, just like colonoscopy, can detect the presence of malignant tumors and pre-cancerous polyps found in the colon.

PillCam Colon 2 is perfect for individuals who are not comfortable with colonoscopy. The pill camera does not require sedation and pumping of air into the bowel is not necessary. Patients can also do their normal activities right after swallowing the pill. However, using the pill camera is more expensive than the conventional colonoscopy. Such a procedure will cost around $800 and is not included in the public insurance plan.

If the pill cameras does detect polyps and malignant tumors in the patient’s colon, the patient will still have to undergo colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is necessary for further screening and diagnosis of colon cancer and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

According to Dr. Greg Monkewich, a gastrointestinal specialist from Burnaby, the PillCam cannot totally replace colonoscopy, but it can be an alternative for patients who do not want to undergo a colonoscopy. Patients who are afraid of the colonoscopy procedure can take the camera pill instead. The pill camera can also be an option for patients who have anatomical anomalies which make inserting a colonoscope inside the colon impossible.

Dr. Monkewich had tried the pill camera and never had a problem swallowing the camera. However, children are first asked to swallow a jelly bean. If the child does not have any problem swallowing the bean, then they can manage to swallow the pill camera.

Dr. Robert Enns, a gastrointestinal specialist and a UBC professor at St. Paul’s Hospital, also agreed with Dr. Monkewich. In fact, Dr. Enns uses the pill camera 250 times a year to see his patients’ upper digestive tract, such as the esophagus and the stomach, as well as the small intestine. He said that those areas can only be viewed through an endoscope, a device similar to a colonoscope.

Dr. Enns said that the pill camera is different from a colonoscope, because it takes pictures instead of videos. The pill camera takes thousands of pictures. The images are then transmitted to a fanny pack which is worn around the patient’s waist.

Patients can do their normal activities right after swallowing the pill. The pill camera exits the body after 10 hours through defecation. However, in previous clinical tests, 8% of the patients had to undergo surgery to remove it because the camera pill got stuck on the folds and pockets of intestinal tissues. Recently, the manufacturer of PillCam sold 10,000 pill cameras and no such complications were reported.

Just like colonoscopy, a patient still needs to take laxatives and avoid solid foods prior to taking the pill camera.  Three days prior to taking the pill, the patient must only eat high-fiber foods and drink only clear liquids. The colon should be clear and free from solid matters so that the pill camera can take accurate images of the colon.