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New PillCam Used to Examine Esophagus - Takes Colored Images After Swallowed - Pictures Inspected for Ulcers or Signs of Cancer

March 23rd 2006

New PillCam Used to Examine Esophagus - Takes Colored Images After Swallowed - Pictures Inspected for Ulcers or Signs of Cancer

Pill Cam

A new device called the Pillcam is being used for patients concerned with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD.  The device is about the size of a multivitamin so it is easy to swallow, and has cameras at both ends of the pill.  During the procedure, there are three sensor arrays placed on the patient’s chest that send data back to a data recorder worn on a belt around the waist. 

Doctor Tim Johnson, ABC News' medical editor, wanted to make sure his chronic heartburn wasn’t causing serious damage to his esophagus.  He underwent the procedure which requires the patient to swallow the pill lying down and then sit up straight over a five minute period.  The gradual inclination ensures that the pill travels slowly down the esophagus.  The patient remains in the upright position for an additional 15 minutes to ensure the pill travels to the stomach.  The disposable pill is later excreted naturally.


The tiny camera can take up to 2000 color photographs.  The heartburn camera is the second in a series of cameras dating back to 2001. Earlier cameras were used to examine ailments of the small intestine.

In Tim Johnson’s case the doctors did find a small discoloration.  Dr. Kathy Bull-Henry said "You can see an area here, within the whitish lining of the esophagus, a more reddish-appearing area, and this I think it is a small erosion.  You can see it more clearly here. I think that's a very superficial erosion."

After the pill travels down the esophagus, the doctors examine the images for signs of Esophagitis.  This is an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus often caused by GERD.  The severity of the symptoms are then “graded” and in some cases esophageal ulcers can appear.


According to Given Imaging, makers of the pillcam, “Images captured by the PillCam™ ESO may also identify symptoms of Barrett's Esophagus, which occurs as a result of abnormal cell growth in the lower esophagus. Columnar cells, typically found in the lining of the stomach, replace the squamous cells in the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to a cancerous condition.”

If heartburn occurs at least three times per week for at least three months, it may be a sign of acid reflux disease.  There are about 15 million Americans that suffer with this condition and about 12 percent have the condition Barrett’s Esophagus which greatly increases the risk of esophageal cancer.  The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 13,770 deaths from this cancer in 2006.  According to Johnson, just 16 percent of esophageal cancer patients survive past five years.

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By Dan Wilson
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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:50 PM