Inside a colon, courtesy of the PillCam.
I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but the colonoscopy seems like one of the least enjoyable routine medical procedures. WebMD goes so far as to say that many people find that “the prep for a colonoscopy is more trying than the actual test,” as it involves cleaning out the lower intestine with a liquid diet for a few days, and sometimes topping that off with laxatives. That sounds unpleasant, and what's more, it’s all in preparation for having your doctor slide a 48 to 72 inches worth of camera into it to look around for polyps or abnormal growths. Obviously, getting colorectal cancer sounds even worse, so when the time comes, I guess I'll go, but I'm not exactly looking forward to it.
Well, the Food and Drug Administration is at least rectifying the last part of the procedure, which is to say, the colon-gazing itself. The FDA approved Given Imaging Ltd’s PillCam. Instead of donning the hospital robe that opens in the back after you’ve cleansed your colon, you just have to swallow a pill-sized camera that transmits images to a special belt. If you need to take more laxatives to, uh, help the PillCam along, the belt lets you know.
While everyone just walking around, getting colonoscopies whenever they please—following a cleanse—sounds like paradise to me, Given Imaging found that in spite of taking high-speed photos of the intestinal tract in the course of its eight-hour journey, the PillCam can still miss things that an in-office colonoscopy would reveal, so the PillCam is only being marketed to people who have trouble undergoing the old-fashioned procedure, or for patients who have experienced an “incomplete colonoscopy,” according to the Boston Globe. That's when the doctor can’t look around the entire colon if its too narrow or too long.
Colon cancer is already the second leading killer of men and women in America. Demographically, the country can expect more cases in the future, as obesity and being older both increase one’s risk of developing the cancer, and America is getting older and more obese. The colonoscopy industry is primed to start booming. And we’re ready to start viewing it from the inside, like Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus, but safely on the outside.