Could at-home testing be a gamechanger for detecting cancer?

Katie Riches examines the growing trend for at-home cancer testing amid the pandemic

Katie Riches
9th April 2021
Image Credit: Testalize.me on Unsplash
14,750 people die from bowel and cervical cancers combined every year. Fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS have, according to experts, started a trend towards at-home care.

Innovations in at-home care will see 11,000 patients with potential symptoms of bowel cancer receive a pill with a camera inside. This comes after the NHS launched ‘at home smear testing’ after charities expressed concern over delayed testing, which will see 31,000 women receive smear tests to perform at home.

Many women feel uncomfortable during smear tests, but the at-home test will be much less invasive. The at-home smear test consists of a swab that is used to take a sample from inside the vagina, this is much less invasive than traditional smears where a doctor uses a speculum to look for abnormal cells in the cervix.

Dr Anita Lim, from King’s College London said that “It’s an intimate procedure and a variety of barriers can stop people from attending, even though it can be a life-saving test. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home.” This is the first at home smear test in England, where kits will either be posted out or received by the GP.

Image Credit: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The orally administered camera pills also aim to be less invasive and uncomfortable. The 2cm long pills allows patients to simply swallow the pill instead of having a standard endoscopy. Standard endoscopies involve a tiny camera mounted on a thin piece of wire being guided into the patient’s body.

Instead, the at-home test allows patients to visit a nurse, who will fit a belt and receiver around the patient’s waist. This is then followed by swallowing the pill and going home where the patient then takes a laxative to allow the camera to capture clear images from inside the bowels. The process takes 5-8 hours with the pill being excreted when patients use the toilet.

Image Credit: Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash

NHS England’s clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said “This is just one further example of the NHS embracing the latest innovative treatment options and bringing the NHS home to patients.”

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