Patients swallowing cameras the size of jelly beans to screen for bowel problems

CAMERAS the size of jelly beans that are swallowed by patients are helping doctors screen for bowel problems from remote locations.

And developments in the next generation technology could soon pinpoint more causes of illness or signs of cancer that will enable doctors to save more lives.

Dr David Rubenstein, from Dandenong’s Digestive Health Centre, said pill cameras, which are simply swallowed with a glass of water, were now used a few times a week and can help identify sources of bleeding in the small bowel that were previously hard to pinpoint.He said doctors were able to download images on to a USB and assess them from other locations if needed.

“You can actually see images in real time if you want,” he said.

“We carefully look at them to try to find the source of any bleeding.”

When using pill cam, patients are fitted with a belt that has a recording device, and as the pill camera travels through the bowel, thousands of photos are taken and are stored.

The Digestive Health Centre is celebrating its 40-year anniversary last month, co-inciding with bowel cancer awareness month.

The centre was the first facility to offer complex day procedures that meant patients could avoid staying overnight in hospital.

As technology has improved, so too did results and comfort for patients — particularly when it comes to new-age procedures.

The camera is little larger than a jellybean. Picture: Tim Carrafa

Most of the costs involved in the procedure, which can be subsidised through a Medicare rebate, is in the camera itself that can cost over $1000.

So it’s little wonder that some patients forget the doctor’s instructions and attempt to return the device when it’s passed.

“I have had people give them back to me, I’m watching the camera images … then there’s a fingerprint on it and it’s cleaned up with a cloth,” Dr Rubenstein said.

“We tell people 100 times we don’t want it back.”

Next generation technology is now being developed, and Dr Rubenstein said “what was an exotic thing is utterly routine now”.

“People have even been talking about remotely controlling the camera, but it’s a bit science fiction,” he said.