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Fiber optic comes to colonoscopy

July 24, 2006
by Nesita Kwan, NBC news

Undated  --  Once you reach your 50th birthday, the American Cancer Society says it's time get screened for colon cancer.

Doctors say the cheapest method is a yearly fecal test, but it's not nearly as accurate as the gold standard-- a colonoscopy. But how many people who should get one, actually do?  

Government figures say the number may be as low as ten percent -- partly because many people are unininsured, but also because of something more basic.

"Getting people over the hurdle of actually having something put in their rear end is really quite a job to do," says gastroenterologist Dr. Hemant Roy.

But now, there's an entirely new type of colon cancer screening.  It's part of a study comparing a colonoscopy, which probes the entire colon, with a painless, fiber optic thread, which only needs to be inserted a few inches.

One of the inventors is biomedical engineer Vidim Backman. "Using this technology we can pick up very subtle changes in the cells."

So as the light beam illuminates one part of the colon, it's also detecting the potential for cancerous polyps elsewhere. That's because what causes cancer leads to a change in all of the colon's cells.

And the light reflects those changes back into the computer.  "By looking at the rectum, the end of the colon, we are able to predict who is going to have a polyp, with really quite remarkable accuracy, above 90 percent." says Dr. Roy. 

Maribel Meisel's a big believer in the technology, after having had both kinds of colonoscopies.  "If they get it to the point where any doctor can do it during the physical exam, that just sounds fantastic."

These early results need to be confirmed by several more years of research. And if it turns out you have a polyp, you'll still need a colonoscopy to find and remove it.

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