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Doctors typically recommend that most adults in the U.S. are recommended to have their first colonoscopy at age 50, though sometimes earlier. This is a routine but fairly invasive procedure to check for colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death, according to a 2014-2016 report from the American Cancer Society. You don’t want to mess around; get checked out.

A colonoscopy itself isn’t all that big a deal for most people. It’s typically not painful and there’s no physical recovery time other than getting the anesthesia out of your system. (Do not plan on going to work that day and you will absolutely be required to bring someone with you to get you home.) Preparation for a colonoscopy is a real hassle, however. With fasting and intestine cleaning preps, you typically spend half the previous day getting ready. I’ve had more than my share of colonoscopies and my greatest advice about the prep, whether you use one of the liquid or pill alternatives, is do not underestimate the power of the prep.

For people with lower rectal bleeding or issues with anesthesia, a colonoscopy is a greater problem. Alternative methods of checking for colon cancer may not be as effective as colonoscopies and some methods subject the person to radiation. Nothing beats having a trained physician actually take a look, which is what the colonoscopy is all about. Medtronic has a non-invasive method of inspecting the lower intestine called the PillCam COLON 2, which is exactly what it sounds like. The PillCam has had CE approval for several years for use in Europe but has been severely restricted in the U.S. Recently, however, the FDA cleared the PillCam for wider use for screening purposes in the U.S. with patients who have lower GI bleeding or issues with moderate sedation. It’s only cleared for those who could have a colonoscopy in the event the PillCam identified a significant issue. The point is to use it for screening, but if a problem turns up, patients who use the PillCam still need to be able to have a colonoscopy.

The PillCam has a light source and video camera on board. You swallow it with water. At 1.02″ long it’s not much larger than a good-sized vitamin pill. Sensors are placed on your abdomen and while it works its way through your digestive system images transmit to a recorder worn on your waist. The process takes 8-12 hours and then you’re done. Depending on your doctor’s instructions you may be able to go about your normal day after swallowing the PillCam. Prep often consists of fasting for 10 hours before ingesting the device. When it’s over the recorder is returned to the doctor for examination of the video. Oh, and you needn’t be concerned about retrieving and returning the PillCam. It’s a one-time, one-use device that is supposed to pass through your system harmlessly and entirely.

With easier and simpler prep, no sedation at all, and little interruption in your day in most cases, the PillCam sounds like it could be a much less costly and invasive alternative to routine colon screenings. Since I must have colonoscopies every 3-5 years, I’d love to be able to use the PillCam and avoid the more irksome prep and lost day of a regular colonoscopy.