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Thursday 20th October 2016

Oesophageal cancer sponge check

10th September 2010

Scientists from the Medical Research Council have said that swallowing a retrievable sponge could help prevent a deadly form of cancer.

They have created the “cytosponge” which collects cells from the stomach.

These can then be checked for a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett's oesophagus which can affect people with a long history of heartburn.

Writing the in the British Medical Journal, the scientists from the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge believe the cytosponge would be an inexpensive and easily-administered test and would be relevant for use in primary care. It could replace the more common but more expensive endoscope method.

Around 375,000 people develop Barrett's oesophagus in the UK each year with 10% of them developing oesophageal, or food pipe cancer.

The MRC tested it on 500 patients aged 50-70. They say when the sponge is swallowed, it expands to a three-centimetre mesh in the stomach and after five minutes can be retrieved with the cells it collects analysed in the lab.

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, who led the research, said: "The UK has the highest level of this form of oesophageal cancer in Europe, and cases in the western world have risen rapidly over the past 20 years.

"As oesophageal cancer carries such a bleak prognosis for patients, it has become more and more obvious that a safe, minimally invasive and easily administered method of diagnosis for Barrett's oesophagus is urgently needed.

"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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