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Oesophageal cancer screening sponge trialled

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Doctors have successfully trialled as a new screening technique for one of the most deadly forms of oesophageal cancer, according to scientists.

Patients swallow a capsule, attached to a length of string, which expands in the stomach into a 3 cm wide sponge-like mesh. Five minutes after being swallowed it is removed through the mouth by pulling the string. The sponge collects cells which are analysed in a laboratory for signs of the tissue changes typical of a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus.

Barrett’s oesophagus can occur in people with a history of heartburn and could lead to the development of oesophageal cancer.

Researchers, reported in the British Medical Journal, believe doctors using the CytoSponge may be able to spot the warning signs and allow for earlier diagnosis, which could lead to more timely treatment and postitve patient outcomes. Currently, patients diagnosed with the cancer have a one in 10 chance of surviving for five years.

In a test of the device, doctors assessed 500 patients between the ages of 50 and 70 and found 3% had the condition.

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, said: “We are delighted that this trial has shown that patients find this method acceptable and it is a practical screening option.”

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