Researchers developed a revolutionary test to detect oesophageal cancer, which may no longer require endoscopy in certain cases.

In a study published in The Lancet, researchers at the University of Cambridge, funded by Cancer Research UK, developed the cytosponge test, a small pill that is attached to a thread that a patient swallows. When the pill reaches the stomach, it will expand into a small sponge. The medical worker would simply pull the string back up, which in the process collects cells from the oesophagus that would be used for testing. It is a quick and well-tolerated test, with minimal discomfort for the patient, which could help doctors in determining whether the patient needs an endoscopy or not.

The cytosponge test can identify Barrett's oesaphagus 10 times more effectively as compared to the usual care by the GP. Barrett's oesophagus is known to lead to oesophageal cancer. This is often diagnosed through endoscopy, or the process of passing a camera into the stomach, but the cytosponge test revolutionises this traditional GP method.

The researchers studied 13,222 participants. They were randomly offered either the sponge test or subjected to the usual care by the GP. In a year's time, about 140 cases of Barrett's were detected from those who received the sponge test. On the other hand, only 13 were detected from those subjected to the usual GP care.

Aside from detecting Barrett's, the cytosponge detected early cancer in five participants, ranging in stages one and two. In the usual group, only one case was detected.

Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead researcher and professor at the University of Cambridge, said that it took them almost a decade, researching and testing thousands, in order to find a better alternative in detecting Barrett's. She also added that the sponge test can revolutionise the manner of diagnosis of oesophageal cancer, and could help ensure that more people survive the dreaded disease. This test will also give cancer patients a chance at kinder treatments once it is detected early.

Revolutionary cancer test Photo: Pixabay

Due to the pandemic, UK hospitals are currently leaning towards the use of the cytosponge, especially after the number of endoscopies was already limited, the Independent reports.