Doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian are currently testing a computer-assisted colonoscope made of flexible material and guided by a physician using a joystick. The scope's flexibility and the physician's ability to delicately control movement may reduce the discomfort of traditional colonoscopy and the need for sedation – both considered reasons some forego this potentially lifesaving screening procedure.
The device, manufactured by Invendo Medical, was developed in Germany and is already approved for use in Europe. It was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.
As a safeguard, sedation can be introduced at any time during procedures if patients feel discomfort.
Doctors at NYP are testing the device's effectiveness by screening patients of average risk for colorectal cancer; age 50 or over; and in good health. They recommend patients at higher risk and/or in weaker health, such as those with heart disease or certain gastrointestinal conditions, undergo traditional colonoscopy until more experience is gathered with the new device.
In some ways, the new procedure is like traditional colonoscopy. Patients drink a solution the night before the procedure to purge waste from their colons. The scope is also introduced through the rectum and advanced to the top of the colon. Doctors examine the colon's interior while withdrawing the scope and can remove polyps if found.
While millions of traditional colonoscopies are done annually in the United States, a significant number of eligible patients remain unscreened. The reasons are varied, and include lack of knowledge, fatalism about the disease, fear of preparation, limited access to medical care, anxiety regarding sedation, and lack of access to an escort (patients are not allowed to transport themselves unaccompanied from the hospital after the procedure with sedation). With this new procedure removing the obstacles related to sedation, advocates are hopeful that it will encourage more people to be screened for colon cancer.