(3 minutes to read)
With the advent of new wearable tech trends such as smart contact lenses and implantable sensors, ingestible tech with pills that track the health from the inside of your body, is fast becoming a revolutionary way to help beat diseases such as bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths here in New Zealand forcing the government to launch a Bowel Screening Workforce Symposium in April to look at ways of increasing New Zealand’s colonoscopy workforce capacity and efficiency.
While a report is yet to be released on the findings, charities are discovering their own ways to reduce the waiting lists for urgent colonoscopies using new smart pill technology to help save lives.
Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust is one such charity who has positioned itself as a contemporary and disruptive organisation utilising new ingestible technology to beat the rising statistics of bowel cancer for New Zealanders.
Their fundraising efforts are aimed directly at better detection using less invasive ways to entice Kiwis to check their health.
“Most Kiwis we have spoken to hate the idea of a colonoscopy where a camera is inserted into the patients bottom via a long tube to try and detect abnormalities. Given the option, they would much rather swallow a pill and carry on with their daily activities,” said CEO Georgina Mason.
Israeli company, Given Imaging a GI medical device leader, has found a way to see inside a patient’s GI tract by having them simply swallow a pill-sized camera.
More than three million patients around the world have benefited from pill cam capsule endoscopy with physicians being able to visualize with high accuracy the small bowel, oesophagus and colon for abnormalities.
A small camera is placed into a pill about the size of a multi-vitamin which the patient can easily swallow. Once inside the body, the pill is able to take digital images around 4-35 frames a second inside the patient's body and transmit those images to a recording device that the patient wears around their waist.
This takes on average 10 hours to pass through the digestive tract and flushes away in the toilet. Gastro surgeons are then able to review the data and look for abnormalities within the bowel such as polyps that could lead to bowel cancer.
Up to 90% of Bowel Cancers can be prevented and early stage cancers removed with a much higher survival rate if caught early enough.
Last month Given debuted their latest model the PillCam® COLON recently approved by the FDA in the US that can detect defects in the large bowel too. This is a less invasive way to directly visualize the colon and a lot more cost effective. Regular colonoscopies cost DHB’s around $1400 each to perform yet the pills are up to a third cheaper and the patient can continue with their normal daily routine.
While many people are calling for a National Bowel Screening Programme, The New Zealand Herald recently reported Health Minister Tony Ryall is adamant our current workforce is not adequate.
“The single largest constraint to a national bowel cancer screening programme is workforce – we simply don’t have enough professionals to do the colonoscopies required.
“There is a need to ensure that people who need a colonoscopy are able to get one safely and in a reasonable timeframe,” says Mr Ryall. Read the NZ Herald article here.
Bowel Cancer Foundation CEO Georgina Mason says,
“Current time frames indicate a patient should be seen within 2 weeks if it’s urgent but this is simply not happening. New Zealand definitely has a shortfall in specialist staff able to carry out these early detection techniques and smart pill technology has a huge potential to alleviate this problem.”
The results of a $24 million bowel screening pilot currently underway in the Waitemata DHB area for 50-74 year olds has performed more than 3200 colonoscopies in its first 21 months. The pilot detected cancers in over 129 patients, some that had no symptoms at all.
Georgina Mason goes on to say,
“There are indications that over 100 extra specialist staff would be needed if we rolled out a Nationwide bowel screening programme to perform over 30,000 more colonoscopies. The reality is that not everyone will need a colonoscopy in the first instance. We believe that Smart Pill technology will be able to help reduce wait lists in New Zealand and encourage those who would never consider getting a colonoscopy to get checked and look after the health of their bowel.”
The less invasive pill cam initiative driven by Bowel Cancer Foundation compliments the nationwide screening programme driven by the Waitemata DHB becoming an indicator or "first step" for those who show early symptoms.
The ability to have both procedures work together is a game changer for New Zealand. Having a mix of procedures will alleviate the backlog and become the catalyst for proactive bowel cancer screening services.
In the 2012/13 financial year, 41,000 colonoscopies were performed by district health boards - a 20 per cent increase compared to 2008/09.
Read more about other methods of diagnosing Bowel Cancer.