A new ‘sponge on a string’ test is being offered to patients at risk for ozofugal cancer – to help allow doctors to take steps to prevent it – to pick up the initial symptoms of the disease.
The one-minute procedure, which can be performed by a GP or nurse, consists of a pill containing a sponge-like material that is attached to a piece of thread.
Once in the stomach, the tablet dissolves and the sponge spreads inside.
When it is ejected, it gradually removes the cells that line the esophagus. The cells are then tested for pre-cancerous changes.
Called Cytosponge, it provides an option for an endoscopy, in which a tube and camera are passed down the throat under an anesthetic.
Picture: A one-minute procedure, which can be performed by a GP or nurse, works
Endoscopy is to be performed in a hospital or specialist unit and procedures are extremely uncomfortable.
Cytosponge can help improve survival odds dramatically, in its early stages or before it even begins.
During the initial tests, the test picked up an early-stage cancer at 72-year-old Liz Chipaches, who said: ‘It didn’t save my life.’
Currently, around 9,200 UK illnesses are diagnosed in a year, with only 12 per cent surviving more than a decade from diagnosis.
Cancer kills more than 7,000 people every year. Although age is the main risk factor, many cases can be prevented because they are associated with smoking, alcohol, and obesity.
A condition known as Barrett’s esophagus – pre-cancerous changes to cells that line the lower part of the gulal – also increases risk.
It is believed that about four million Bretons suffer from Barrett, although many people are unaware of it, and up to one in ten can develop ozofugal cancer.
It is thought to be caused by acid reflux, where the acid leaks ‘from the stomach back into the esophagus’. Over time, it can replace the cells that line the esophagus.
While Barrett’s own cell changes do not cause symptoms, acid reflux does – mainly heartburn or chest pain, but an unpleasant taste in the mouth, frequent coughs, especially at night, trouble swallowing, nausea and Vomiting. Oesophageal cancer causes similar problems.
These symptoms should warrant a referral for further investigation, which previously, involved in endoscopy.
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Experts say that cytospazone provides a simpler and less unpleasant option. Concern has also been raised about whether endoscopy can be performed safely.
The device inflates the air in the abdomen, but may mean that small moisture particles, known as aerosols, can be pumped out into the patient’s mouth and air. These particles may contain the Kovid virus, putting doctors at risk.
In contrast, the cytospazone process is ‘aerosol-free’, and it has already been rapidly detected in some hospitals to cope with the increasing clinical delay brought about by the epidemic.
Earlier this month, the Scottish Government pledged £ 500,000 to help overtake the test.
Developed by researchers at Cambridge University and the Hospital of Edenbrook, Cytosponge may be able to identify ten times more people with Barrett’s esophagus than the current route, according to a study earlier this year.
This is because the process is much faster than endoscopy and can be performed by a GP, meaning more people will be able to access it.
If Barrett is diagnosed, patients may be offered medication and lifestyle advice to control stomach acid. In more advanced cases, they will be offered surgery to help reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Professor Rebecca FitzGerald, who helped develop the test, said that SpongeBob could be a game-changer in the fight against oesophageal cancer.
He said: ‘Compared with endoscopy performed in hospital, Cytosponge causes minimal discomfort and is a quick, simple test that can be performed by a GP.
‘Our trial is already being run across the country, so we hope more people across the UK can benefit from it.’
The hospital in Edenbrook recently increasingly used cytosphenes to help identify patients with suspected cancer who urgently need further tests.
This, in response to its debut in Scotland as well as a major decline in cancer diagnosis during the coronovirus crisis.
According to Cancer Research UK, 2,700 fewer people have been diagnosed with cancer in a week than in the previous year.
Pro FitzGerald hopes that it will soon be available to GPs across the UK.
MS Chipchase, who had been suffering from acid reflux for years, participated in a cytospanz test program in 2017. He said: ‘If I had not been invited and gone on trial, I would not have known that I needed treatment. ‘
She visited her GP for testing and got her results 12 days later.
The test indicated that the retired scientist had Barrett’s esophagus and because of this, he was sent for an endoscopy to see if the cells were cancerous.
That procedure showed that he had opophagal cancer in the early stages, and he began treatment early.
She said: ‘I feel very fortunate thinking about the series of events that led to the cancer when he was caught. The experience has changed me. I smile more. ‘