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Swallowing a sponge on a string could replace endoscopy as screening of pre-esophageal cancer

Swallowing a sponge on a string could replace traditional endoscopy as an equally effective but less invasive way of diagnosing a condition that can be a forerunner of esophageal cancer.

The trial invited more than 600 patients with Barrett’s esophagus – a condition that can sometimes lead to esophageal cancer – to swallow the Cytosponge and to undergo an endoscopy. Almost 500 more people with symptoms like reflux and persistent heartburn did the same tests.

The Cytosponge proved to be a very accurate way of diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus. More than 94 per cent of people swallowed the sponge and reported no serious side effects. Patients who were not sedated for endoscopy were more likely to rate the Cytosponge as a preferable experience.

Lead author Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, based at the MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: “The Cytosponge test is safe, acceptable and has very good accuracy for diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus. It should be considered as an alternative to endoscopy for diagnosing the condition and could possibly be used as a screening test in primary care.”

There are currently no standard or routine screening tests for esophageal cancer.   Often times, cancer of the esophagus is caught in later stages.  Symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, often arise once the cancer has spread and becomes difficult, and in many cases, impossible to cure.

Barrett’s Esophagus is caused by acid coming back up the food pipe from the stomach – known as acid reflux – which can cause symptoms like indigestion and heartburn. Over time people with these symptoms may develop changes in the cells that line the esophagus. These cells can become cancerous and so patients with Barrett’s Esophagus are tested every couple of years.

Barrett’s Esophagus is usually diagnosed by having a biopsy during an endoscopy. This can be uncomfortable and carries some risks – and it’s not always practical for everyone who has symptoms like reflux and heartburn.

Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the United States and other western countries.  Due to its aggressive nature, esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers.  An estimated 18,170 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2014 and an estimated 15,450 people will die of  the disease.

Esophageal cancer is the thirteenth most common cancer in the UK. Around 5,600 men develop the disease each year compared with 2,750 women. And each year around 5,200 men and 2,460 women die from the disease.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “These results are very encouraging and it will be good news if such a simple and cheap test can replace endoscopy for Barrett’s oesophagus.”

“Death rates are unacceptably high in oesophageal cancer so early diagnosis is vital. Tackling oesophageal cancer is a priority for Cancer Research UK and research such as this will help doctors to diagnose people who are at risk quickly and easily.”

Would you like to support esophageal cancer research projects such as this?   Consider a tax-deductible donation to help fund esophageal cancer research which is extremely underfunded.  Click here to donate.

 

 

 

The story above is based on a press release provided by Cancer Research UK.
Other source used: seed.cancer.gov
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