Pill-sized camera may assist early cancer detection

US doctors have created a pill-sized camera which can take detailed images of a patient’s gullet, potentially improving cancer early-detection rates.

The device – which is the size of a vitamin capsule and swallowed by the patient – takes microscopic images of the oesophagus in much more detail than currently prevalent endoscopic cameras.

Given the detailed images produced by the new device and the unobtrusiveness of the procedure, it is hoped that the camera may be a key device in achieving earlier detection and treatment of cancer.

“The images produced have been some of the best we have seen of the oesophagus,” Professor Gary Tearney, a researcher on the project and a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, told the BBC.

“We originally were concerned that we might miss a lot of data because of the small size of the capsule, but we were surprised to find that, once the pill has been swallowed, it is firmly ‘grasped’ by the oesophagus, allowing complete microscopic imaging of the entire wall.”

It has a rotating laser head and the images can be watched in 3D on a screen by doctors.

The camera is attached to a wire for easy retrieval and is so unobtrusive that it can be used while the patient is conscious, meaning that the whole procedure takes a matter of minutes.

Tearney added that the costs of the device are less than those associated with current endoscopy methods.

The innovation – which is currently being trialled on patients – is expected to be of particular use in gullet conditions usually hard to identify such as Barrett’s oesophagus, a disease that often leads to cancer and can only be diagnosed through gullet imaging.

Cancer is an increasingly significant illness across Africa, with over one million new cancer cases recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa each year and this number set to double over the coming decade.

According to the World Health Organisation, by 2030 70 percent of the world’s cancer cases will be located in low-income countries, with the illness already having a significant impact in African nations which have as yet been relatively unfamiliar with the illness.

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