Cancer patients in Kent are taking part in a ground-breaking trial of tiny cameras which check for early signs of the disease after being swallowed.
The imaging technology, delivered in a capsule no bigger than a standard vitamin tablet, is being used at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) and can provide a diagnosis of potential bowel cancer cases in hours.
Health chiefs hope the pilot scheme will help to catch illness earlier, with patients showing symptoms of bowel cancer being referred directly to MTW by their GP to get the pain-free test quickly, rather than potentially waiting longer for a more intrusive procedure.
Traditionally those with symptoms of this form of the disease would be referred for an endoscopy, which would see a long, thin flexible tube with a light and camera at one end inserted via the mouth or rectum.
The new technology makes the process much simpler.
After swallowing the camera, the patient can then go about their day while the capsule takes between five and eight hours to travel through their system, taking two images per second.
Clinical staff then download the information via a data recorder strapped to the patient's waist before the high resolution images are then analysed to detect signs of cancer and other conditions such as Crohn's disease.
Dr Laurence Maiden, chief of medicine and emergency care at MTW, said: "We are always looking for new innovations to enhance the patient experience and ensure we are constantly developing and evolving the outstanding care our teams at MTW deliver.
"The colon capsule comes with remarkable benefits to the patient, such as reducing their time spent in hospital and giving them more freedom to carry on with their normal day."
Procedures such as colonoscopies can sometimes be uncomfortable, requiring a sedative for the patient and a longer stay in hospital.
The camera pill technology is not new, and was previously trialled at other hospitals in Kent, but this latest pilot is all about trying to catch the disease early and improve survival rates.
Dr Henry Taylor, head of cancer services at MTW, said: "During the coronavirus pandemic we were proud to continue all our cancer treatments as normal and as we continue to prioritise cancer care, this latest innovation will ensure people can get the checks they need and conveniently.
"These cutting-edge cameras are small but they will make a huge difference for patients and as always we encourage everyone who has any symptoms of cancer to help us to help you and not delay treatment - we are ready and here to help you."
MTW provides cancer services to around 1.8 million people across Kent, Medway and East Sussex.