Source: The Telegraph

Patients would swallow a pill on a string, that expands into a one-inch sponge at the bottom of the throat.

This is then draw slowly back up, gently scraping off cells from the wall of the oesophagus.

These are then tested for a condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus, which can develop into oesophagal cancer over time.

Oesophagal cancer is the sixth-most common type in Britain, killing 7,500 people a year.

It is often diagnosed when it has advanced, which means survival rates are low: just eight per cent live at least five years from diagnosis, compared to 82 per cent for breast cancer.

Researchers at Cambridge University, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Medical Research Centre are excited because the ‘cytosponge’ is both cheaper and less invasive than the current testing method, endoscopy.

In that, an ear nose and throat expert inserts a tiny camera down the throat to select and remove sample cells. It costs about £400 a time.

The team, supported by Cancer Research UK, is now hoping to recruit 1,400 volunteers to compare the accuracy of both methods.

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, who led the Cambridge-based team that developed the cytosponge test, said: “If this trial is successful it will provide a cheap, safe and highly effective method of identifying people with Barrett’s oesophagus, so they can take steps to reduce their risk of developing cancer.

“This would open the doors for a national screening programme, much like those offered for breast, cervical and bowel cancers, to help prevent oesophagal cancer among the one to two people in every 100 with Barrett’s oesophagus who go on to develop the disease.”

Persistent heartburn can be an early sign of Barrett’s oesophagus, which is where the cells lining the lower gullet come to resemble those in the small and large intestines, because of returning stomach acid.

Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: “Hopefully this trial will provide a simple means of screening people for Barrett’s oesophagus on a much larger scale.”

This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.