Swallowed capsule falls short for colon cancer test

Wed Jul 15, 2009 5:46pm EDT
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By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - A swallowed capsule that takes pictures of the colon as it passes through misses too many pre-cancerous lesions and is not ready to replace more traditional colonoscopies, Belgian researchers reported on Wednesday.

The Given Imaging PillCam, containing tiny video cameras at each end of a 3 cm-long (1.2-inch) capsule, detects some colon tumors and polyps but missed five of the 19 tumors found in patients who were also checked with a colonoscopy, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine,.

The PillCam technique, actively marketed in Europe but still considered experimental in the United States, also missed more than one quarter of polyps and pre-cancerous lesions, known as adenomas, that were larger than 6 millimeters (0.23 inch).

"Since the size of colorectal lesions is a predictor of the development of cancer, the relatively lower sensitivity of capsule endoscopy for the detection of large adenomas is cause for concern," Dr. Michael Bretthauer of Oslo University Hospital in Norway wrote in a commentary on the study.

Doctors are looking for an easier way to screen for colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and an important cause globally.

The best method, a colonoscopy, uses a lit tube inserted into the colon. But preparing for the test can be uncomfortable and the procedure requires anesthesia or sedation. In rare cases, the colon may be punctured. Only about half of the people who should get one actually do.

Dr. Andre Van Gossum of Erasme University Hospital in Brussels and colleagues tested the Israel-based Given's PillCam in 320 people.

The capsule did well at finding small abnormalities, so it may work well in combination with a so-called virtual colonoscopy, which uses a computer enhanced X-ray called a CT scan, Van Gossum said.   Continued...

<p>The Given Imaging PillCam is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Given Imaging/Handout</p>