Chinese University's pill camera makes checks for bowel cancer easier
Chinese University offers alternative to colonoscopy, aiming to shorten waits and provide a more appealing test
Chinese University is offering a colon "pill camera" as an alternative diagnostic tool for bowel cancer, in an effort to spare patients the discomfort and embarrassment of invasive test procedures.
The university hopes the technology, which the European Union approved for use in 2009, will shorten the wait for tests and encourage more people to use it.
The device, just like pill cameras for the stomach and small intestine, comes in the shape of a pill with a camera on both ends. The user swallows and later excretes it, instead of having an instrument inserted through the anus to examine the colon.
"The pill camera swims on its own in the intestine and captures images along the way," said Professor Chan Ka-leung, director of the university's Institute of Digestive Disease, where the test is provided.
The institute found in a survey that 55 per cent of about 10,000 respondents believed screening for bowel cancer caused bodily discomfort, and 40 per cent said it was embarrassing.
The pill camera could address those worries, Chan said. He encourages people above 50 to be screened for bowel cancer even if they have no symptoms. Patients who cleared the test did not have to repeat it for 10 years, he said.
The pill camera gave high-resolution images of the colon wall similar to that in colonoscopy, and had an accuracy of up to 90 per cent in detecting abnormal bowel polyps and cancer, he said.
It takes up to 35 photos a second and transmits the images in real time. The device is excreted about eight hours later and disposed of.
However, unlike colonoscopy, the pill camera provides only diagnosis, not treatment. When a polyp is found, colonoscopy is still needed to remove it.
The pill camera costs about HK$14,000. The institute charges HK$16,000 per test, conducted at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, and will examine at most two patients each day.
Non-emergency patients now wait more than a year for a colonoscopy. Chan hopes the queue in public hospitals will be shortened as people opt to use the pill camera.
The university might discuss with the government the possibility of providing a subsidy for the service after more medical workers had been trained to handle the device, said Professor Martin Wong Chi-sang, director of the CUHK Jockey Club Bowel Cancer Education Centre.
The centre conducted research into 3,750 apparently healthy middle-aged Hongkongers and found pre-cancerous bowel tumours in 30 per cent of them.
Wong said he expected bowel cancer to surpass lung cancer as the most prevalent cancer in Hong Kong next year. The city recorded 4,335 new cases of bowel cancer in 2009, just behind lung cancer, according to the Cancer Registry. Bowel cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer in the city, with 1,752 deaths that year.