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Capsule camera may help spot cancer

A swallowable camera-in-a-capsule could help doctors spot early signs of oesophageal cancer, research has shown.

The hi-tech transparent device is about the size of a large multivitamin pill.

It contains a rapidly rotating laser that shines a beam of near-infrared light onto the wall of the oesophagus, or gullet, the pipe that carries food to the stomach.

Sensors record the light reflections and produce detailed microscopic images that can reveal cell changes associated with Barrett's oesophagus, a pre-cancerous condition linked to heartburn and acid reflux.

A string-like tether allows the device to be pulled back up and transmits images to a monitor.

In tests on 13 unsedated volunteers, including six with Barrett's oesophagus, the capsule was able to image the whole gullet in less than a minute.

A full procedure involving four passes down and up the oesophagus took just six minutes.

Current screening for Barrett's oesophagus takes well over an hour and involves passing an endoscope - a flexible telescope - down a patient's throat.

The new device revealed subsurface structures not seen with traditional endoscopy and clearly identified signs of Barrett's oesophagus, the US scientists reported in the online edition of Nature Medicine journal.

Professor Gary Tearney, from Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "The system gives us a convenient way to screen for Barrett's that doesn't require patient sedation, a specialised setting and equipment, or a physician who has been trained in endoscopy."

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