TUESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- A new technology that uses a remote-controlled capsule camera to scan the inside of the colon may one day be an alternative to colonoscopy, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Japan's Osaka Medical College have developed a "self-propelled capsule endoscope" that can be inserted into the anus and driven through the colon via remote control and a magnetic field, capturing images along the way.
Similar capsule cameras are currently used to scout out problems in the small intestine, said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of colorectal cancer for the American Cancer Society. Patients swallow the capsule, which then moves through the digestive system much in the same way that food does, recording images of the inside of the intestine.
But capsules haven't worked as well in looking for problems in the colon, Brooks noted.
Part of the reason is that the colon has many nooks and crannies. During a colonoscopy, physicians move an endoscope, or a flexible tube containing a light and a camera, around inside the colon to get a full view, something that can't be done easily with capsule cameras.
"The colon is not a smooth tube. It's not like a pipe," Brooks said. "It's a convoluted, muscular tube with a lot of folds and crevices. The capsule camera is going to need to be able to visualize behind the folds and into the crevices."
Also, the colon -- though at about 4.5-feet long is considerably shorter than the 21-feet of the small intestine -- is larger in diameter than the small intestine, making getting a full 360 degree view more difficult.
Finally, capsule cameras currently in use take a long time to move through the digestive tract. To get a good view of the colon, it would have to be empty of waste material, including stool and mucus. Even if a patient undergoes an enema, waste material that hasn't yet made its way to the colon
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