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New mini capsule cameras allow cancer tests at home

11th March 2021 about a 3 minute read
"As we come out of ‘peak COVID’ and the disruption of the pandemic, the NHS is now pushing ahead with genuine innovation to expand services for many other conditions." NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens

NHS England has announced it is trialling colon capsule endoscopy cameras that can be swallowed by patients to check for cancer.

The imaging technology using miniature cameras can provide a diagnosis within hours.

An initial group of 11,000 NHS patients in England will take part in the pilot in more than 40 areas of the country.

The capsule endoscopy normally takes five to eight hours and provides full images of the bowel with information sent to a data recorder in a shoulder bag.

Infection control measures required to make traditional endoscopies COVID-secure mean they take much longer, which has reduced the number of people who can undergo the checks. 

They involve patients attending hospital and having a procedure whereas the new technology means people can carry on with their their normal lives.

“The colon capsule is a promising new technology that may offer a real advantage for some patients...we welcome the opportunity for a proper service evaluation so that both the limitations and advantages of this technique can be properly assessed." Dr Alastair McKinlay, President of The British Society of Gastroenterology

The NHS has been keen to stress it has prioritised cancer care during the coronavirus pandemic.

In December more than 25,000 patients were treated for cancer and more than 200,000 people came forward for checks – 13,000 more than the same month the previous year.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “As we come out of ‘peak COVID’ and the disruption of the pandemic, the NHS is now pushing ahead with genuine innovation to expand services for many other conditions.

“That’s why we’re now trialing these ingenious capsule cameras to allow more people to undergo cancer investigations quickly and safely. 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.”

Cancer treatment during pandemic

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS national cancer director added: “It is thanks to the huge efforts of staff that more than 228,000 people started treatment for cancer during the pandemic, and in 2020 hospitals carried out more than two cancer procedures for every patient they treated for the virus”.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to increasing the number of tumours caught at an early stage from half to three in four.

To further support cancer services, £150 million has been invested in diagnostic equipment such as endoscopy equipment and new MRI and CT scanners.

Hospitals are using the funding to restructure their buildings to allow social distancing and help prevent the spread of the virus while continuing to deliver care.

Dr Alastair McKinlay, President of The British Society of Gastroenterology, said: “We welcome any initiative that seeks to simplify and improve the early diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease and, in particular, colorectal cancer which unfortunately is still responsible for many avoidable deaths.

“The 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.

“We welcome NHS England’s decision to work with some of the UK’s top experts in this field to make sure that the technology has a proper evaluation. This information will put the UK at the forefront of the world in this important new area.”