Health Team

Tiny camera can view intestinal ducts

Posted May 15, 2008 5:18 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2008 2:21 p.m. EDT

— Doctors often use small cameras inside the body to help spot and treat diseases. The latest camera – slightly larger than a human hair – can fit inside the tiny bile duct near the small intestine.

Most cameras fit on a scope about as big as a small finger. The SpyGlass Direct Visualization System, available at UNC Hospitals since April, allows gastroenterologists to view even smaller places in the body.

Dr. Lisa Gangarosa, a UNC gastroenterologist, used to depend on X-ray images to spot potential problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts.

“All we can see on the X-ray is that there is a narrowing,” Gangarosa said. The narrowing could be due to bile duct stones or cancer.

Until now, a camera on an endoscope could only reach as far as the opening that leads into those ducts.

The SpyGlass allows doctors to “actually visualize with a camera what is going on inside those ducts,” Gangarosa said.

Patients are under conscious sedation or general anesthesia for procedures with the SpyGlass.

A normal duct should be smooth walls filled with yellow fluid. A narrow area on an X-ray image can be worrisome for cancer, Gangarosa said. A catheter can send down tiny forceps to grab a biopsy sample.

The SpyGlass is a brand new tool, just placed on the market in the past year. It can be used as an inpatient or outpatient procedure.

Gangarosa said there are no risks beyond that of a typical endoscopic exam – which could include pancreatitis, bleeding or possible infection.