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How the ‘bear claw’ removes bowel tumours – in 45 minutes: No need for a scalpel as device sucks up pre-cancerous growths
- ‘Bear claw’ hailed as major breakthrough in the prevention of bowel cancer
- Device sucks up and removes pre-cancerous growths in just 45 minutes
- A physician at Southampton General Hospital is now using the ‘bear claw’
- There is no need for a scalpel meaning a reduced risk of perforating bowel
A device nicknamed ‘the bear claw’, which sucks up and removes pre-cancerous growths, is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the prevention of bowel cancer.
Some patients can face complicated surgery to remove these tumours, called polyps – fleshy stalks that grow on the surface of the bowel – which can develop into cancer in one in ten cases if left untreated.
Non-surgical methods include cutting them away using tiny needles attached to a flexible tube, or burning them away using a wire ‘lasso’.
Bear claw: The full-thickness resection device (FTRD) can be used to remove diseased tissue from hard-to-treat patients in just 45 minutes
But these are not an option if the tumour cells are also beneath the surface of the bowel wall.
If surgeons remove only the surface cells, the cancer risk remains. Take too much, and there is a risk of tearing the bowel wall, leading to life-threatening infection.
This could result in the need for major surgery via large incisions in the abdomen.
But in a UK first, a physician at Southampton General Hospital is using the new ‘bear claw’ device – properly known as a full-thickness resection device (FTRD) – to remove diseased tissue from hard-to-treat patients in just 45 minutes.
There is no need for a scalpel and a vastly reduced risk of perforating the bowel.
The FTRD is essentially a cap that can be clipped to a colonoscope, a thin, flexible tube that can be passed up into the bowel via the back passage.
Major breakthrough: There is no need for a scalpel and a vastly reduced risk of perforating the bowel
It contains a mechanical grabber, a bit like a crocodile clip, which pinches the diseased tissue, pulling it up into the tube of the cap.
The ‘bear claw’ clip, so-called by doctors because of its curved shape, is inside the tube and held open under tension.
This is released and clamps shut, both cutting away the growth and closing up the wound as it is left in place as a ‘staple’.
Dr Philip Boger, a consultant in gastroenterology at Southampton, says the procedure marks a ‘milestone’ as many patients would no longer be faced with major abdominal surgery.
Common: Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with about 40,000 new cases diagnosed every year
He has performed the produced on just three patients so far, but says: ‘Until now we have not been able to treat certain tumours that lie deeper beneath the surface of the bowel without opting for surgery, due to the risk of perforation and bleeding.’
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with about 40,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Around nine out of ten patients are over 60, and up to a quarter of cases need surgery.
Dr Boger added that pre-cancerous tumours were being identified earlier thanks to the NHS bowel-screening programme, which was launched nine years ago.
Similar equipment to the FTRD already exists, but is only able to remove a thin layer of tissue. A major bonus of the new procedure is that it can be carried out under sedation – as the bowel wall has no pain nerves. This means patients can return home the same day.
Retired care worker Gwen Smith was the first patient to be treated using the bear claw after a previous procedure had failed to remove all of her tumour due to risk of perforation. The 73-year-old’s tumour was beneath the surface of the bowel lining. If left, there was a risk it would become cancerous and spread to the lymph nodes.
She faced two options: major abdominal surgery with high risk of then needing to be fitted with a stoma bag, or treatment using the bear claw at Southampton General.
‘When I was offered the option of avoiding major surgery I was delighted,’ says Mrs Smith, from Christchurch, Dorset.
‘I’m a fit and active pensioner and the thought of having to stay in hospital for several days, and possibly having a bag, was not appealing.
‘It all happened so quickly. I went down for my operation at 9.15am, was given a sedative and it was all over in 45 minutes. I was home by 12.45.’
Dr Boger adds: ‘Many of our patients are elderly and there is additional risk to them from major surgery. With Mrs Smith, we were able to completely remove the mass using the FTRD, quickly with minimal discomfort for the patient, minimal risk and very little recovery time.’
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Posted by: Greg Lance-Watkins